How many people use drugs?

Drugs are used by many different people and in many situations.

The latest data from the Office for National Statistics: Drug misuse in England and Wales: year ending March 2020  showed

” Overall drug use continued to remain stable, with around 1 in 11 adults aged 16 to 59 years having taken a drug in the past year. However, there were differences between age groups. Drug use was much more common among younger adults although, again, the proportion of 16- to 24-year-olds taking drugs was similar to the previous year.

“Cannabis continued to be the most commonly used drug, followed by powder cocaine. However, the proportion of users who took powder cocaine more than once a month fell in the year ending March 2020.”

The key findings were:

  • An estimated 1 in 11 adults aged 16 to 59 years had taken a drug in the last year (9.4%; approximately 3.2 million people); this is the same as the year ending March 2019 but an increase from 8.6% in the year ending March 2010.
  • Around one in five adults aged 16 to 24 years had taken a drug in the last year (21%; approximately 1.3 million people); this was similar to the previous year (20.3%).
  • An estimated 1% of 60- to 74-year-olds had taken a drug in the last year; therefore, the prevalence of last-year drug use in those aged 16 to 74 years (7.6%) was lower than for those aged 16 to 59 years (9.4%).
  • 3.4% of adults aged 16 to 59 years had taken a Class A drug in the last year (approximately 1.1 million people); this was similar to the previous year (3.7%).
  • 7.4% of adults aged 16 to 24 years had taken a Class A drug in the last year (approximately 467,000 people); this was not significantly different from the previous year (8.7%).
  • 2.1% of adults aged 16 to 59 years and 4.3% of adults aged 16 to 24 years were classed as “frequent” drug users (had taken a drug more than once a month in the last year); these are similar to the previous year’s estimates.

There were no changes in last-year drug use for the majority of individual drug types including cannabis, ecstasy, powder cocaine, new psychoactive substances and nitrous oxide. However, there were falls in the use of two low-volume drug types and the proportion of frequent powder cocaine users:

  • Cannabis continues to be the most common drug used in the last year among adults aged 16 to 59 years and 16 to 24 years, 7.8% and 18.7% respectively; this is much larger than the second most prevalent drugs used in the last year, powder cocaine use for 16- to 59-year-olds (2.6%) and nitrous oxide use among 16- to 24-year-olds (8.7%).
  • Amphetamine use in the last year in adults aged 16 to 59 years fell by 42% compared with the previous year (to 109,000 people), continuing the long-term decline since the year ending December 1995.
  • Anabolic steroid use among 16- to 59-year-olds in the last year also fell compared with the previous year from approximately 62,000 to 31,000 people, following a period over the last decade where reported use was relatively flat.
  • Although there was no change in last-year powder cocaine use among adults aged 16 to 59 years compared with the year ending March 2019, the proportion of frequent users fell from 14.4% in year ending March 2019 to 8.7% in year ending March 2020.

More reports on drug prevalence:

Drugs in the Time of COVID: Interim Report, (2021)
This interim report presents findings from the first 2,621 responses, received between the survey’s launch on the 9th April 2020 and the 17th September 2020 (inclusive); which captures drug purchases made in anticipation of and during the first national lockdown, as well as purchases made during the easing, and eventual lifting, of that first lockdown | Release, UK

Statistics on Drug Misuse, England, 2019
According to this report, there were 7,376 hospital admissions for drug related mental and behavioural disorders. 9.4% adults (16 to 59) had taken an illicit drug in the last year, whereas 20.3% of young adults (16-24) had taken an illicit drug in the last year. There were 2,917 deaths related to poisoning by drug misuse | NHS Digital, UK

For international perspectives see:

ESPAD Report 2019 (Published Nov 2020)
The report is based on the findings of a 2019 survey of 15- to 16- year-old students in 35 European countries and provides a unique insight into substance use and other forms of risk behaviour. It includes comparable data on illicit drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, e-cigarettes and social media as well as gaming and gambling | ESPAD and EMCDDA, Portugal

The World Drug Report 2019
Globally, some 35 million people are estimated to suffer from drug use disorders and who require treatment services. The Report also estimates the number of opioid users at 53 million, up 56 per cent from previous estimates, and that opioids are responsible for two thirds of the 585,000 people who died as a result of drug use in 2017. Globally, 11 million people injected drugs in 2017, of whom 1.4 million live with HIV and 5.6 million with hepatitis C | UNODC, Switzerland

Global Drug Survey 2019 (PDF)
Key findings from this year’s report into global drug trends | GDS, UK

European Drug Report 2018
Revealing the latest drug market trends and the factors driving them. Also looks at the most recent developments in drug prevention, treatment and policy. | EMCDDA, Portugal

Latest wastewater data reveal drug-taking habits in over 70 European cities and an increase in the detection of stimulants, 2019
The latest findings from the largest European project in the emerging science of wastewater analysis are presented today by the Europe-wide SCORE group, in association with the EU drugs agency (EMCDDA) | EMCDDA, Portugal