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Fall in heroin and crack treatment demand

A fall in the number of heroin and crack cocaine users requiring treatment has prompted claims England is past the "high water-mark" of the 1980s heroin epidemic.

Figures from the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse show the number of users of the class A drugs entering into treatment programmes has decreased by 10,000 in the past two years - from 62,963 in 2008-2009 to 52,933 in 2010-2011.

The declining trend in treatment said to be "more significant" in heroin and crack cocaine addicts under 30. Those aged 18-24 have more than halved since 2005-2006 and 25-29 year-olds "have come close to matching this".

The over-40s remain the largest age group among those entering treatment for drug abuse. They also account for around 80% of those for heroin and/or crack cocaine use.

This is despite a "levelling off" in the number of treatment attendances in the over 40s after consistent rises up to 2009-2010.

Paul Hayes, Chief Executive of the National Treatment Agency, said the figures provide ground for "cautious optimism" but warned against complacency, likening the progress to a football game.

"I would say we are a goal up but it is not half time yet," he said.

While academics believe trends - including that of drug recovery - occur in cycles, Hayes, for the most part, attributes the reduction in treatment demand to the impact of young people seeing drug addiction first hand.

"Young people have realised the consequences of heroin or crack cocaine through witnessing the devastating impact it has had on older siblings, and in some cases, their parents," said Hayes.

"It is difficult to see how class A drug use can be fashionable or chic when people become less attractive to the opposite sex, do less well at school and are in poor health."

The spike in heroin use seen in the 1980s came at a time when there was mass youth unemployment.

While he is quick to note there is no "inevitably" that one causes the other, he warned "we have to be extremely careful that if unemployment levels rise, history doesn't repeat itself".

NTA figures also show treatment success rates are rising.

Twenty-eight percent of the 255,556 people entering into treatment programmes since April 2005 successfully completed the course and did not require further treatment.

There has also been an increase in the number of people recovering from addiction to 27,969 - an annual rise of 18% on last year and a 150% jump from 2005/2006's figures.

While Simon Antrobus, Chief Executive of Addaction, has said the figures are "hugely encouraging", he warns it is too soon to "let our guard down".

"[The figures] do not mean there is less for us to do," he said.

"The issues underlying young people's drug use still need tackling, and the misuse of all kinds of drugs - including cocaine, mephedrone and cannabis, as well as crack and heroin - is still far too high. We can't let our guard down.

"So, while we hope today's figures prove to be a milestone in the tackling of the UK's drug problems, we certainly cannot be complacent."

NTA's Hayes also revealed the government's aim to restrict drug supply into England is "working" and the specialist agency has seen a decline in the purity of cocaine and heroin in the past year.

He praised the government's 2010 Drug Strategy: Reducing demand, restricting supply, building recovery: supporting people to live a drug-free life and said "it is coming together to make real change".

National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse

Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"Yes. Let's not forget the early 80s were a time when the Conservatives were in power and now they are in power again. Heroin use is linked to unemployment and the Tory government appear hell bent on making everyone unemployed" - M Trotski, East Lancs