Young people in England are turning their backs on the most dangerous illegal drugs for the first time in 30 years, according to the head of the British National Treatment Agency (NTA).
New figures show that the total number of drug users entering treatment for heroin or crack cocaine has fallen by 10,000 over the past two years.
The official data shows the fall in heroin use is particularly sharp among under-30s, with the number of 18-to-24-year-olds in treatment more than halving and the 25-29 age group almost matching this fall.
Drug treatment experts say they are cautiously optimistic that the heroin epidemic which has gripped Britain since the 1980s may have finally passed its worst.
Paul Hayes, NTA chief executive, said the figures, which also show an 18 percent rise in the number of people officially defined as “recovering from addiction,” were an indication the trend was moving in the right direction.
“We’re a goal up, but it’s not half-time yet. I think what it shows is that we’ve probably passed the high water mark of the impact of the epidemic of the late 1980s and 1990s,” he said.
Hayes said that the once popular images of “heroin chic” and the Trainspotting culture were no longer fashionable and young people instead saw the damage that heroin and crack use had done to their older siblings and even their parents.
“If you see people in your community who actually can’t cope because of heroin and crack use, if you increasingly see heroin and crack dependency concentrated among the people in society who do life least well; as that becomes apparent it’s difficult to see it being fashionable or chic,” he said.
However, he warned that the heroin epidemic that scarred the late 1980s and 1990s on the back of a sharp rise in youth unemployment could yet return.
“We need to be vigilant, if we see a rise in youth unemployment, that it doesn’t lead to a return to 1980s level of heroin use. It is not inevitable, but we have to watch the situation very closely,” he said.
The latest NTA drug data for England for last year and this year shows that 52,933 drug users entered treatment for heroin or crack cocaine in the past year, down from 58,016 in 2009 and last year and 62,963 in 2008 and 2009.
The treatment monitoring system figures show that 27,969 adults left treatment “free from dependency” last year — an 18 percent increase over the previous year.
The figures echo estimates from the University of Glasgow’s drug misuse research center which put the number of heroin and crack users in England in 2009 and last year at 306,000, down from 332,000 in 2008 and 2009.
The annual budget for drug treatment has risen to ￡600 million (US$933.48 million) a year from ￡200 million (US$311.16 million) a decade ago.
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