Widespread use / Extent of problem

Global opiate use has been estimated at 15.6 million people or 0.4% of the world’s population aged 15-64. This breaks down to 54% of abusers in Asia, 25% in Europe, 14% in the Americas, 6% in Africa and 1% in Oceania. In 2000 surveys indicated 1.2 million heroin users in the USA, 3.3 million in Europe (1.4 million in West and Central Europe) and 5.4 million in Asia. Globally there appears to be approximately 11 million heroin users, corresponding to 0.3% of the population. Heroin accounts for more than 70% of the world’s opiate abuse. While the numbers seem to have stabilized in the USA and West and Central Europe, opiate abuse is rising in Eastern Europe and Asia. (2007 UN World Drug Report)

The Annual Report to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction 2007 cites evidence which shows that opiates continue to be the main problem drug in the UK with approximately 261,320 users. While fewer opiate users seek treatment than in the past, they continue to represent 65% of all drug users who approach treatment centres. In addition, most deaths linked to drug abuse are associated with heroin and morphine.

London, Birmingham, Bristol, Nottingham, Liverpool and Glasgow are the main drug distribution centres for the UK, with heroin originating in Afghanistan. Dual supply of heroin and crack cocaine is now well established in most parts of the UK and not only at street level. At 23% heroin accounts for the second largest proportion of expenditure in the illicit drug market in the UK, although the street price of heroin has fallen. (Annual Report)

Among the more ‘vulnerable’ groups, including looked after children, children of drug using parents, homeless children, young offenders, children excluded from school and minority children, heroin use remains low (1% or less). However, 90% of pupils surveyed in 2005 had heard of heroin, and most young heroin users are considered to be ‘socially excluded’. (Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs – HO fact sheet)