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The drugs questions

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Mark Easton | 18:07 UK time, Thursday, 23 July 2009

Question One: How many people do you reckon took Class A drugs last month in England and Wales? These are people who, in the moments before consumption, were guilty of an offence which carries a maximum sentence of seven years imprisonment. So how many do you think it was?

Answer: Just over half a million people - in the last month. (There are roughly 80,000 prison places in England and Wales.)

Question Two: Out of the 32 million adults of working-age in England and Wales, how many do you think have taken illegal drugs? These are people who, in the moments before consumption of whatever illicit drug, were guilty of an offence which carries a maximum of two years imprisonment.

Answer: 11.9 million - that's 37% of the population.

hosb120901.gifThe evidence for my quiz comes from the latest Home Office survey of drug use, published today [843Kb PDF]. (No cheating.) It is an annual release which has provided the big picture of drug misuse in England and Wales since it began in 1996.

Question Three: The most popular illicit drug by far is cannabis. Has the proportion of people who admitted using it in the previous year gone up, down or remained stable in the past decade?

Answer: In 1998, one in 10 of the adult population said they'd used cannabis in the previous 12 months. In 2008 it was one in 12. Cannabis use went down every year for five years while it was a Class C drug, however its use has stabilised (the data shows a slight rise from 7.6% to 7.9%) in the year it was reclassified as Class B.

Question 4: You may have read that powder cocaine use has risen in the past decade - from 1.2% of adults taking it in 1998 to 3% in 2008. What happened to amphetamine use in the same period?

Answer: Amphetamine, another stimulant drug, saw use fall from 3% in 1998 to 1.2% in 2008.

Question 5: In 1998 the government launched a 10-year drug strategy for England and Wales which promised to "break once and for all the vicious cycle of drugs and crime which wrecks lives and threatens communities".

So, after spending tens of billions on fighting drugs, what do today's figures tell us about the trend in drugs misuse? Has it gone up, down or is it stable?

Answer: Class A drug use has gone up, but use of the most common illicit drug, cannabis, has gone down - which means that overall, illicit drug use has slightly fallen. To put it another way, in 1998 one in eight working-age adults used an illegal drug while in 2008 it was one in 10.

The Big Question: Is it time to rethink our approach to drugs?

PS: Thank you to Gothnet for pointing out I'd got my numbers round the wrong way.


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