Heroin and crack use falls to record low

Figures also suggest drug-related crimes have been greatly reduced

The number of people using heroin and crack cocaine in England has fallen to a record low, new research shows.

According to the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA), there were 298,752 users in 2010/2011 – the lowest figure since the agency’s launch 12 years ago. The number peaked in 2005/06 at 332,090.

The figures come as the NTA announces findings that its drug treatment programme, which reaches 63% of heroin and crack cocaine users, has prevented an estimated five million drug-related crimes a year, such as robbery, burglary and shoplifting.

The agency also notes that the drop in heroin use has been faster in areas where the heroin epidemics first took place, such as London and the north-west.

Critics have claimed that the figures reflect a growing trend of users moving away from hard drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine to so-called ‘legal highs’, but Paul Hayes, chief executive of the NTA, says there is no evidence to support this argument.

However, Hayes notes that while the use of hard drugs among those under 35 “isn’t just falling, it’s plummeting,” the proportion of over-35s being treated for drug use is increasing.

“The drug population is ageing. We have very few people in their teens and twenties using heroin and crack, and more in treatment in their 40s and 50s who are frailer, iller and more difficult to turn around in the system,” he said.