Context

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 list all illegal (or controlled) drugs in the UK. According to the Home Office report Drug misuse: findings from the 2015 to 2016 Crime Survey for England and Wales:

  • Around 8% of people aged 16 to 59 had taken an illegal drug or used a substance unlawfully in the past year, and around 4% had taken one in the past month. Among young adults aged 16 to 24, this was 18% in the past year and 9% in the past month.

  • More than one third of adults aged 16 to 59 (35%) have taken an illegal drug or used a substance unlawfully at some point in their lives. Cannabis was the most common, with 7% using it in the past year, followed by powder cocaine (2%) and ecstasy (2%).

  • In the same age group, 3% were defined as frequent drug users (having taken an illegal drug or used a substance unlawfully more than once a month, on average, in the past year).

  • Among young adults aged 16 to 24, this figure was 5%.

  • Use of any class A drug was around 10 times higher among people who had visited a nightclub at least 4 times in the past month (18%) compared with those who had not visited a nightclub in the past month (2%). A similar pattern was found for those visiting pubs and bars more frequently.

The government's What About YOUth survey (Health and Wellbeing of 15-year-olds in England – Main findings from the What About YOUth? Survey 2014) found that:

  • 5% of 15 year-olds had used cannabis in the past month

  • 9% had used cannabis in the past year, and 2% had used it more than a year ago

  • 13% said that they had been offered drugs other than cannabis, and 2% had tried other drugs.

The Health and Social Care Information Centre's survey on Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use Among Young People in England – 2014 found that:

  • around 3% of 11 to 15 year-olds reported inhaling glue, gas or other solvents

  • of the 11 to 13 year-olds who reported some drug use in the past year, 53% reported using volatile substances.

The Home Office's National drug strategy for England 2010 sets out plans for helping people to live a drug-free life. The third annual review of this strategy was published in 2015 (Drug strategy annual review: 2014 to 2015).

As part of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, local authorities became responsible for commissioning drug misuse treatment services. The Home Office's drug strategy annual review highlights the key role local authorities play in helping to reduce both the supply of, and demand for, illegal drugs. This includes preventing problematic drug use and helping people to recover from drug addiction by developing their personal and social capital, through providing education, housing, public health and social care services.

The Public Health England and Association of Directors of Public Health Review of drug and alcohol commissioning (2014) identified that in many areas there is a continued desire to improve outcomes, delivery and performance, but service funding may be uncertain. The primary focus for many areas is treatment rather than prevention. Drug services are increasingly integrated with services to reduce alcohol dependency and services to support younger people, as well as services associated with the community criminal justice system and local health delivery.

More information

You can also see this guideline in the NICE pathway on drug misuse prevention.

To find out what NICE has said on topics related to this guideline, see our web page on drug misuse.

See also the evidence reviews and information about how the guideline was developed, including details of the committee.

  • Public Health England
  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)