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 2017 there were 138,955 drug seizures in England and Wales in 2016/17 (including estimated figures), a 6% decrease compared with the previous year (148,553). This is the fifth consecutive annual fall and the lowest number of seizures since 2004, when there were 107,359 seizures.

Seizures by police forces decreased by 8% between 2015/16 and 2016/17 (from 143,248 to 132,283) whilst there was an 8% decrease in the number of police recorded drug offences – a measure which is highly correlated with the number of drug seizures. Over the same time period, seizures made by Border Force increased by 26% (from 5,305 to 6,672).

The majority of 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 96% of anabolic steroids, 82% of cocaine, 76% of all cannabis resin, 71% of herbal cannabis and 69% of heroin.

Cocaine was the most commonly seized Class A drug, with almost half of all Class A seizures involving this substance. In 2016/17, there were 14,892 seizures of cocaine, down 4% on the previous year (15,588 seizures). However, the quantity of cocaine seized between 2015/16 and 2016/17 rose by 30%, from 4,240 kilograms in 2015/16 to 5,516 kilograms in 2016/17.

After cocaine, heroin was the second most commonly seized Class A drug, with 8,092 seizures in 2016/17 (27% of all Class A seizures). This was a 1% increase on the 2015/16
figure of 8,050 seizures. There was also an increase in the number of seizures of crack cocaine (up 16% from 4,718 in 2015/16 to 5,484 in 2016/17 – the highest number since 2008/09), ecstasy (up 9% from 2,906 to 3,174), LSD (up 42% from 98 to 139) and morphine (up 39% from 136 to 189).

Between 2015/16 and 2016/17 the number of seizures of herbal cannabis fell by 10% whilst the total quantity of herbal cannabis seized fell by 61% from 30,493 kilograms in 2015/16 to 11,861 kilograms in 2016/17. The quantity of herbal cannabis seized in 2015/16 was the largest since 2008/09, largely due to seizures made by Border Force. The fall in the last year should therefore be seen in the context of the longer term trend. Over the last year, the total quantity of herbal cannabis seized by Border Force decreased by 69% from 27,132 kilograms to 8,370 kilograms. At the same time, the quantity of herbal cannabis seized by police forces increased by 4% from 3,361 kilograms in 2015/16 to 3,492 kilograms in 2016/17.

There was also a decrease of 17% in the amount of cannabis resin seized (from 7,035 kg to 5,838 kg) while the number of cannabis plants seized decreased by 19% from 393,702 plants to 318,988 plants.

Amphetamines were the second most frequently seized Class B drug with 3,820 seizures in 2016/17, a 14% decrease since 2015/16, when there were 4,418 seizures. This is the lowest number of seizures in 28 years.  In 2016/17, there were 508 seizures of ketamine – a 4% decrease on the previous year, when there were 530 seizures.

In addition, the number of seizures of ‘other Class B’ drugs in 2016/17 (1,218) was 7% lower than in 2015/16 (1,311). The majority of “other Class B seizures” were for cathinone and cannabinol derivatives.

The most commonly seized Class C drug in 2016/17 was benzodiazepine with 1,945 seizures – a fall of 1% from the 2015/16 figure of 1,964.

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

Updated November 2017