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Fall in opiate and crack use in England: independent research published today

The number of people in England who use heroin and crack has fallen, according to independent research published by the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA) today.

Experts from the Centre for Drug Misuse Research at the University of Glasgow estimated there were 306,150 users of heroin and/ or crack in 2009-10, a statistically significant decrease from the 2008-9 estimate of 321,229.

The research suggests there are now about 25,000 fewer heroin and/ or crack addicts in the population than the 2005-7 estimate of 330,000. An NTA summary of the research also highlights an estimate of 103,185 injecting drug users, a fall of 12% from the previous count.

The findings update a three-year research programme commissioned by the Home Office to supplement data in the British Crime Survey and give a clearer picture of the extent of use of the most harmful drugs.

Heroin and crack are the most problematic illicit substances, because of their potential for entrenching dependency in individuals and their social impact in fuelling drug-related crime, worklessness and welfare dependency. 

The trend identified by Glasgow University reflects the reduction in new presentations to services recorded by the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS) in recent years, and is consistent with an ageing drug using population.

Commenting on the findings NTA Chief Executive Paul Hayes said:

This independent research confirms what we see in the pattern of drug treatment. It looks as if fewer young adults are turning to heroin and crack and fewer users in general are taking part in risky injecting behaviour.

This is an encouraging development but we can’t be complacent as long as drugs are ruining lives and causing misery to communities. So we are refocusing the treatment system in order to ensure more people overcome addiction and sustain their recovery.”

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Notes to Editors

The NTA is a special health authority which aims to improve the availability, capacity and effectiveness of drug treatment in England. 

Its key functions will transfer to Public Health England (PHE) by April 2013 and it will cease to exist as a separate organisation. During the interim period the NTA will drive the transformation from a 'treatment system' to a 'recovery system' in line with the drug strategy 2010.

The 2011-12 Department of Health Action Plan tasked the NTA with publishing updated prevalence estimates of opiate and/or crack cocaine.

The individuals covered by this study were people aged 15 to 64 and resident in each Drug and Alcohol Action Team (DAT) area, and known to be using heroin, methadone, other opiate drugs, or crack cocaine.

Numbers of opiate and/or crack cocaine users from 2004/05 to 2009/10 are shown in the following table:















The report ‘National and regional estimates of the prevalence of opiate and/or crack cocaine use 2009/10: a summary of key findings’ was written by:

Gordon Hay, Maria Gannon, Jane Casey:

The Centre for Drug Misuse Research, University of Glasgow

Tim Millar:

The National Drug Evidence Centre, University of Manchester

For further information contact:

Miranda Askew, Senior Communications Officer

Tel. 020 7972 1921  Email:

NTA Communications Team

Tel: 020 7972 1802 Email:


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