Heroin and crack cocaine appear to be going out of fashion. The number of young addicts has dropped to is lowest recorded level. And even cannabis use has fallen from 11 per cent in 2001 and seven per cent in 2007.
The figures released today by the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse confirm recent findings from the Home Office that the pattern of drug use is significantly changing.
But what the figures did show was that the over-40s now make up almost a third of the people seeking treatment in England. More than 16,000 started a new course of treatment last year.
The data also shows that nearly one third of users in the last seven years successfully completed their treatment and did not return, which is in line with international recovery rates.
Paul Hayes, NTA chief executive, said he reason for such a dramatic fall in the number of new heroin addicts (9,249 started treatment in 2011-12 compared with 47,709 in 2005-06) was in part to do with young people being more savvy about the dangers of heroin and crack. He also said drug is is generational and to some extent fashion-led.
Mr Hayes said the over-40s were a legacy from the last recession which saw an epidemic of heroin use. He said these were people now seeking help in order to get their lives back on track.
Cannabis rates reduced
He warned, however, that while this recession had not seen the same boom in heroin use, it was what he described as “fertile territory” as youth unemployment grows.
There was no immediately obvious reason for the reduction in cannabis use but Mr Hayes speculated that a reduction in smoking has helped. He described tobacco as a gateway drug and he also suggested that the stronger forms of cannabis may be putting some people off.
City Health 2012, a conference on drug and alcohol use to be held for the first time in London later this month, will include a discussion on the changing patterns of drug use in the UK. A paper submitted by Dr Owen Bowden-Jones from the Central North West London NHS Foundation Trust, will look at the increased use of new drugs such as mephedrone, ketamine and legal highs.