Britain winning fight against heroin and crack cocaine - but use of synthetic drugs such as mephedrone soars

Fewer than 300,000 people of any age now use the drugs in England

Health Editor

Britain is winning the war against heroin and crack cocaine with a 10 per cent fall in users over five years, the head of a leading drugs organisation said today.

Paul Hayes, chief executive of the National Treatment Agency  for Substance Misuse, said among under 35’s the numbers were “not falling, but plummeting” thanks to a “world class drug treatment system”.

But critics warned that while use of traditional drugs like heroin and cocaine was falling, use of synthetic drugs such as mephedrone was soaring – and more difficult to control.

 Mr Hayes, speaking at the final press conference for the NTA before it is wound up and merged into Public Health England from 1 April, criticised Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg who said in December that Britain  was “losing the war against drugs on an industrial scale.”

“If this is failure, I don’t know what success looks like,” Mr Hayes said.

The number of registered addicts was down below 300,000, the number injecting drugs was below 100,000 and treatment programmes had cut offending rates, preventing almost 5 million crimes.

Mr Hayes warned local authorities they must  maintain funding for drug treatment after April 1 against competing priorities. “The public get it – they realise drug addiction is a major driver of crime and that treatment is not just benefiting the individual users, whom they may not like, but is also benefiting them.”

Martin Barnes, chief executive of Drugscope, said the decline was “encouraging evidence that the heroin epidemic of the 1980s was being reversed.”

“However, there can be absolutely no room for complacency. While overall drug use has fallen, new drugs and patterns of drug use are emerging, including new psychoactive substances and greater harms associated with so-called ‘club drugs’ such as ketamine, GBL and mephedrone.”

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