Health, Lifestyle

Growing drug consumption in the UK

Britain is now the largest consumer of synthetic drugs in the European Union. Supplies from all over the world have created a market moving thousands of millions of pounds.


Javier Duque

When it comes to discussing the United Kingdom’s serious drug use problem, we need only cite one or two figures. Calculations estimate that between 18 and 23 tons of heroin and around 30 tons of cocaine are consumed every year.

These figures indicate that the country is now the largest consumer of synthetic drugs, such as amphetamines and methamphetamines, in the European Union. Cities such as London, Birmingham and Liverpool act as the main distributors, and the police have notably lost control in many areas now dominated by drug gangs.

The UK market has stocked up on substances from various areas around the world. Cocaine, for example, comes mainly from countries like Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador.

Usually carried across the Atlantic Ocean by boat, cocaine can be distributed to the rest of the continent from Spain – the leading European country in cocaine consumption. Heroin, on the other hand, usually originates from Afghanistan and the so-called “Golden Triangle” of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar.

Marijuana or cannabis resin hails from Morocco, transported by land through the Iberian Peninsula, France and Belgium to reach British ports.

Ecstasy, meanwhile, otherwise known as MDMA, and other synthetic drugs come from Holland and Belgium via the English Channel, although some drugs, such as amphetamines, are produced in the UK itself.

Nonetheless, no matter where the drugs originate, a large percentage of the British population has already tried a number of these substances. More specifically, 36% of the adult population between the ages of 16 and 59 have tried drugs at some point in their lives.

Furthermore, 8.8% of the adult population have used drugs at least once in the past year, with 4.8% claiming to have used drugs at least once in the past month.

Those under the age of 35 are more prone to drug use, men more so than women, although there has been a slight decrease in drug use since 1988.

This may account for the large quantity of money moving around: the drug trafficking market amounts to almost £18 billion per year in the UK.

In spite of previously mentioned figures, marijuana is the most popular drug (30.6%), followed by amphetamines (11.7%), cocaine (8.8%), ecstasy (8.3%) and finally LSD (5.3%).

In terms of young people, figures are clearly down, although still worrying. 17.1% of students between the ages of 11 and 15 have tried drugs once, and 12% have done so recently, with 6.4% admitting to drug use within the past month.

Cannabis is well established as the most popular drug amongst this section of the population, closely followed by magic mushrooms, cocaine and ecstasy.


The outlook is equally worrying on the European level, in spite of the fact that drug use has stabilised in recent years. Cocaine is at its highest level of use, although cannabis is the main drug of choice.

A total of almost 78 million Europeans between the ages of 15 and 64 have tried cannabis at least once in their lives (23.2% of the European population).

About 14.5 million people have flirted with cocaine use, and the number of amphetamine users is set somewhat lower, at about 12.5 million.

Once again, young adults have the highest consumption rate of illicit substances, namely, those aged between 20 and 30, with cannabis the preferred drug among adolescents aged 14 to 18.

Spain finishes just ahead of the UK, with 10.2% of its population claiming to have tried cocaine at least once in their lives, with 2.7% having tried it during the previous 12 months.

…and beyond

Due to increasingly widespread use, drug problems can lead to health problems, and therefore the need for a political budget, aimed at resolving consumer related problems.

Drug addicts’ human rights mean that they are guaranteed access to treatment and social reintegration, suggesting that governments should consider acknowledging addictions as a chronic and recurrent illness.

However, education regarding prevention from an early age is the best cure for this problem, as this may very well influence drug related behaviour.

The main purpose in schools, however, is to teach young people to develop skills and impart knowledge, as well as establishing sound values in terms of health and drug use, rather than modifying behaviours which may have been pre-determined by factors outside  of their influence.

Therefore, schools can and should keep the community informed about setting educational goals that are identified as contributing factors to wider health objectives, such as the preventing drug use and reducing the adverse effects of drugs both for individuals and society.

Nevertheless, such school-based education, whilst it may well help prevent drug use in generations to come, will not solve the drug problem which currently exists in the UK, nor the numerous associated problems.

(Translated by Marie-Thérèse Slorach)

Share it / Compartir:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *