Drug use among women drops to 20-year low

Woman smoking a joint Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption One in 12 adults - around 2.7m people - had taken illicit drugs, the figures suggested

Drug use among women in England and Wales has dropped to its lowest level in at least 20 years, figures suggest.

One in 20 women (5%) aged between 16 and 59 reported using an illicit substance in the past year, the Crime Survey for England and Wales found.

This was the lowest level since the records started in 1996. It had peaked at 8.8% in 2000 and 2003-04.

Among men, 11.8% reported using drugs over the past year - a figure which has also fallen in recent years.

Susanne Hakimi, from the charity Action on Addiction's Hope House - a residential treatment centre for women - said drug use among women has been "hidden away behind closed doors".

She said: "Some women tell us they are afraid to seek help for fear of losing their children. Although addiction generally is still highly stigmatised, we are seeing more women coming to us for treatment for drug use and being a little more open about their recovery.

"Once this starts to happen, we believe it can be contagious and one person in recovery can, with the right support, encourage and support someone else to recover from addiction."

'A cultural shift'

The Home Office figures suggested drug use was higher among young people. Nearly one in five (18.0%) of young adults aged 16-24 had taken an illicit drug in the last year- around 1.1 million people, the figures show.

This was similar to the 2014-15 survey (19.5%), but lower compared with a decade ago (25.2% in the 2005-06 survey).

Professor Kevin Fenton, national director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England, commented: "These new figures show that drug use has been largely stable over the last five years and continues to be considerably lower than 10 to 15 years ago."

However, usage of cocaine and ecstasy jumped among people from wealthier households, the figures suggested.

In 2015/16, 3% of people aged 16 to 59 from households with incomes of at least £50,000 reported taking cocaine - up from 2.2% in 2014/15.

The proportion in the same category who had used ecstasy was 2.2% - up from 1.5%.

Simon Antrobus, chief executive of the charity Addaction, said the increases reflected factors including wider availability and "a cultural shift which has increasingly normalised those substances".

It comes as separate figures showed that the number of people being admitted to hospital after being poisoned by illegal drugs has soared by more than 50% in the past 10 years.

There were 14,279 hospital admissions where 'poisoning by illicit drugs' was the main diagnosis in 2014-15, a rise of 57% since 2004-05, figures released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, showed.

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