Drug use falls but laughing gas trend revealed

image captionSix per cent of young adults used nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, in the last year

The proportion of adults who say they use illegal drugs has fallen to its lowest level since records began, a Home Office study suggests.

Just over 8% of adults - around 2.7m people - admitted taking an illegal drug during the last year, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales.

This compares with 11.1% in 1996 and 12.3% at its peak in 2003/04.

But the report found 6% of young adults used nitrous oxide - or laughing gas - in the last year.

Both nitrous oxide and psychoactive drug salvia, which both feature in the survey for the first time, are legal substances.

Illicit drug-use has been largely in decline since 2003 and the figures for 2012/13 represent a 0.7% drop on the previous year.

'Really positive'

The survey found the proportion of 16 to 59-year-olds who said they had taken a class A drug in the last year fell from 3% to 2.6% - although the level has remained broadly the same since records began.

Among young adults, aged 16 to 24, reported class A drug-use had almost halved since the first survey of its kind in 1996.

The decline was down to the falling popularity of ecstasy, magic mushrooms and LSD.

But reported levels of cocaine-use - the second most popular drug after cannabis - were higher than 17 years ago.

In 1996, the proportion of adults saying they used cocaine was 0.6%, but it was now more than three times higher at 1.9% - although this was down from its 3% peak five years ago.

According to the survey, young people were almost twice as likely to say they had used drugs than the adult population overall, with 16.3% of 16 to 24-year-olds taking them in the last year

Home Office minister Jeremy Browne said the results overall were "really positive news".

A spokesman added that, while legal, laughing gas should "not be experimented with" and that "any suggestion of abuse, particularly by young people, is of concern".

The annual Crime Survey for England and Wales is based on interviews with 21,000 adults.

It also found that almost four out of five people thought cannabis was either "very" or "a bit" unsafe.

And at 99%, almost all of those surveyed thought taking heroin was unsafe, while 97% said the same of taking cocaine or ecstasy.

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