How many drugs are seized by customs?

Every year the UK Border Force intercept hundreds of shipments or people bringing illicit drugs into the country.

The police seize drugs already in the country, either smuggled, grown or manufactured here. The number and quantity of these seizures are recorded and published yearly by the Home Office in the form of statistical bulletins.

While the bulletins show what drugs are being reported and seized at the ports and on the streets, they reveal more about the activities of customs and the police than they do about what is actually available. For a full discussion of how these statistics should be interpreted see What do drug seizures tell us about availability?

The tables below show what was seized recently by the UK Border Force and police. Though the police make more seizures (hence arrests), these tend to be smaller quantities. Border Force seizures, on the other hand, tend to be much larger – the biggest exception being cannabis plants, which are mostly homegrown in the UK.

According to Home Office statistics published in November 2018:

  • Police forces and Border Force made a total of 135,728 drug seizures in England and Wales in2017/18, a 2% decrease compared with the previous year (139,019). This is the sixth consecutive annual fall and the lowest number of seizures since 2004, when there were 107,359 seizures.
  • Seizures by police forces decreased by 2% between 2016/17 and 2017/18 (from 132,283 to 129,183) whilst there was less than a 1% decrease in the number of police recorded drug offences, a measure which tends to be highly correlated with the number of drug seizures. Over the same time period, seizures made by Border Force decreased by 3% (from 6,736 to 6,545)
  • Cannabis was the most commonly seized drug, which was involved in 72% of all drug seizures in England and Wales in 2017/18. The second most commonly seized drug was cocaine, which was involved in 11% of all seizures.
  • The majority of all seizures (95%) were made by police forces in England and Wales; however, Border Force seizures tended to be for larger quantities. In terms of quantity, Border Force seized 94% of anabolic steroids, 92% of all cannabis resin, 89% of herbal cannabis, 79% of cocaine, and 68% of ecstasy.

Class A

  • Seizures of Class A drugs decreased by 1% between 2016/17 and 2017/18, from 29,807 to 29,441 seizures. Cocaine was the most commonly seized Class A drug, with 52% of all Class A seizures involving this substance in 2017/18.
  • There were 15,257 seizures of cocaine in 2017/18, up 2% on the previous year (14,892 seizures). However, the quantity of cocaine seized fell by 39% compared with the previous year, from 5,516 kilograms in 2016/17 to 3,359 kilograms in 2017/18.

Class B

  • Seizures of Class B drugs decreased by 2% between 2016/17 and 2017/18, from 104,300 to 102,721 seizures. Cannabis was the most commonly seized Class B drug, with 95% of all Class B seizures involving this substance in 2017/18.
  • Approximately 88% of cannabis seizures involved herbal cannabis. Between 2016/17 and 2017/18 the number of seizures of herbal cannabis fell by 2%, from 87,588 to 85,966 seizures.
  • The quantity of herbal cannabis seized rose by 142% compared with the previous year, from 11,861 kilograms in 2016/17 to 28,666 kilograms in 2017/18. This was the second largest quantity of herbal cannabis seized since 2008/09.
  • There was an increase of 33% in the quantity of cannabis resin seized (from 5,838 kilograms to 7,781 kilograms) while the number of cannabis plants seized increased by 10% from 318,988 plants in 2016/17 to 351,881 plants in 2017/18.

Class C

  • Seizures of Class C drugs increased by 1% between 2016/17 and 2017/18, from 5,016 to 5,088 seizures. The most commonly seized Class C drug in 2017/18 was benzodiazepines with 1,986 seizures, an increase of 2% from the previous year.
  • Between 2016/17 and 2017/18, there was a 66% decrease in the quantity of anabolic steroids seized, from 5.2 million to 1.7 million doses.

New Psychoactive Substances (NPS)

  • There were 1,523 seizures of NPS in 2017/18. This is the first time that data on NPS have been included in this publication.
  • The most commonly seized types of NPS were synthetic cannabinoids (858 seizures), other NPS (448), NPS powders (135) and nitrous oxide (96).

DrugWise infographic on drug seizures (PDF) (2016 statistics)