Cracks in the fabric of society: Merseyside and London head 13% rise in addicts: The growing drugs epidemic

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THE NUMBER of registered drug addicts increased by 13 per cent last year to a record 28,000 people, it was announced yesterday.

New addicts rose by 20 per cent to 11,600 in 1993 as government figures highlighted Britain's growing drugs epidemic. The total number of notified drug takers has now doubled in the past five years.

Deaths among registered addicts increased by 110 people to 510 in the year ending 1992. The rise was largely due to a spate of overdoses. More than 1,400 drug related deaths were registered in 1992, a rise of 4 per cent on the previous year.

The figures, published in the 1993 Bulletin of Statistics of Drug Addicts notified to the Home Office, show that most addicts are concentrated in London and the North-west. Merseyside has the highest proportion - almost 2,000 per million population - with the Metropolitan Police district second with just over 1,000. Other areas with above average levels of registered drug takers include Avon and Somerset, Humberside, Norfolk, Grampian, Lothian and Borders, and Tayside.

There was a 35 per cent rise in new addicts taking methadone, the heroin substitute, which now accounts for 44 per cent of all notified drug takers. The Home Office believes this may reflect the success of drug centres attracting addicts for treatment. Heroin remains the most common drug of addiction, accounting for 68 per cent of the drug takers.

The proportion of addicts injecting drugs rose for the first time since 1989. It went up by 2 per cent to 56 per cent in 1993 to 13,300 addicts. The most significant increase in injecting was amongst new addicts aged between 21 and 25, which rose from 56 per cent to 61 per cent. About a fifth of the addicts took a cocktail of drugs.

The average age of new addicts in 1993 was 26 - the same as previous years. The largest increase was among those aged under 21 which increased by 350 - a 21 per cent rise. Merseyside and Scotland had the largest proportion of young drug takers.

The report concluded: 'Some of the rise in notifications may reflect increased efforts to attract more addicts to seek medical treatment in view of the threat of Aids and the continuing development of drug treatment services.'

A Home Office statement added: 'An increase may indicate an increase in the overall numbers of addicts; an increase in the addicts who come forward for treatment; an increase in compliance by doctors with reporting requirments; or a combination of these three factors.'

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