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Record number of people taking class a drugs, UK figures show

By Flora Thompson, PA Home Affairs Correspondent

A record number of people took Class A drugs in the last year amid a rise in the use of cocaine and ecstasy, according to official figures.

The Home Office figures said 3.7% of 16 to 59-year-olds reported taking such drugs in 2018/19. This is up from 3.5% the year before and the highest rate since records began in 1996 (2.6%).

This equates to around 1.3 million people, according to the data based on findings from the Crime Survey of England and Wales.

There is an "upward trend apparent in the use of Class A drugs, particularly among 16 to 24-year-olds", the findings said, adding: "This is mainly driven by an increase in powder cocaine and ecstasy use."

Overall drug use also increased slightly.

Roughly one in 11 adults aged 16 to 59 had taken an illicit substance in the last year.

This proportion (9.4%) equates to around 3.2 million people, up from 9% recorded in the department's 2017/18 research.

There has been an upward trend in drug-taking since 2015/16 when the figure was 8.3%. Although this is still lower than the 11.2% measured in 1996 when records began.

The data also found the number of people taking drugs in their late 20s rose by almost 3% in the last year amid a rise in the use of cannabis, amphetamines and cocaine.

The survey said the use of drugs between 25 to 29-year-olds increased from 13.5% in 2017/18 to 16.4% in 2018/19.

This change was "mainly driven by an increase in last year use of cannabis, amphetamines, and powder cocaine," the Home Office said.

Karen Tyrell, a director at drug and alcohol charity Addaction, said the statistics show how common drug use has become.

She told the PA news agency the country's approach to tackling drug crime and funding treatment did not reflect the reality of the situation, adding: "This is a wake-up call that we need to have a sensible conversation about drugs. Particularly around the use of drugs by young people.

"It's hard to pin-point an exact reason for these rises."

As with previous years, cannabis remains the most commonly used drug, with 7.6% of respondents saying they had used it in the last year, equating to around 2.6 million people. This was followed by powder cocaine (2.9%), equating to 976,000 people.

Use of ketamine was slightly lower than the previous year when it had seen a large rise, down to 2.9% from 3.1% in 2017/18.

Around 8.7% nitrous oxide users were aged 16 to 24, equating to around 552,000 young people.

The survey also noted people who are happy could be less likely to take drugs.

The findings showing around one in five (19.3%) of adults who said they had "low levels of happiness" reported taking drugs in the last year as opposed to one in 16, (6.2%) who classed themselves as having "very high levels of happiness".

Ms Tyrell said people who had "overall life satisfaction" and those who were "generally happy" may be less likely to use drugs while a rise in drug-taking can be seen during periods of economic downturn.

She added: "It tends to be the case that drugs can be used as a form of escape, to forget about your worries."