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Drug abuse rising faster in rural areas: Police statistics show sharp increases in narcotics seizures outside cities

DRUG ABUSE is growing faster in rural areas than in the inner cities. The sharpest increases in the rate of drug seizures and the proportion of offenders caught using narcotics are found in counties such as Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, new analysis of police statistics shows.

The figures, published yesterday by the Labour Party, reveal a growing drug trend in the five years up to 1992, which contrasts sharply with the traditional view of the rural idyll. Most drug offenders and seizures are, however, still based in urban areas such as London and Merseyside.

Northamptonshire saw an eight- fold increase in the rate of drug seizures over five years. In 1987, the rate stood at 119 seizures per 1 million population. By 1992 the figure had risen to 1,000.

There were similarly large increases in Wiltshire - 247 in 1987 to 1,621 in 1992, a 556 per cent rise - Gloucestershire, 285 to 1,428, and Lincolnshire, 131 to 656.

This contrasts with much smaller increases in areas such as Greater Manchester - 412 in 1987 to 828 in 1992 - and the West Midlands - 270 in 1987 to 489 in 1992. Hampshire and South Wales were the only areas where the rate fell.

In the figures, Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire were also top of the league for increases in the proportion of drug offenders in the population. The amount had risen at least fourfold in each county.

Tony Blair, Labour's home affairs spokesman, yesterday argued that the rises could not be explained just by improved policing. He said: 'In the last few years some of the most alarming increases in the rate of drug seizures are those in county police force areas. These statistics indicate more than ever that a national co-ordinated strategy is needed to tackle the problem of drug abuse and crime.'

Mr Blair said supply would be cut by continued tough action by police and Customs officers, and demand would be reduced through education programmes, which he accused the Government of cutting.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, said the police should be congratulated for seizing more drugs. 'I would not pretend that we have yet won nor are winning this war. We have seen an increase in the use of drugs in all Western countries. We take this immensely seriously and we are mounting a concerted effort across the board.'

----------------------------------------------------------------- THE DRUGS LEAGUE ----------------------------------------------------------------- Rates of seizure of controlled drugs by police force area (a)- ranked on increase 1987-92 Change Police force area 1987-92 Northamptonshire 740% Central Scotland 598% Wiltshire 556% Gloucestershire 401% Lincolnshire 401% Cleveland 373% Dorset 351% Staffordshire 350% Avon and Somerset (b) 322% Grampian 311% Norfolk 310% Durham 298% Derbyshire 284% Essex 274% Hertfordshire 259% (a) These rates are calculated by relating the number of seizures made by each police force to the mid-year population estimates for each area. Seizures made by HM Customs & Excise and other authorities are not included. (b) Increase in 1991 reflects under-reporting in earlier years. ----------------------------------------------------------------- Source: Home Office 'Statistics of the misuse of drugs: seizures & offenders dealt with, UK' (Area Tables). -----------------------------------------------------------------