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Tuesday, 12 February, 2002, 13:20 GMT
Drugs cost society 18.8bn
A drug user injects
"Problem users" cost 11,000 a year, say new figures
Drug abuse costs society up to 18.8bn a year - or more than 300 per person - in England and Wales, according to new research for the Home Office.

The figure, which is far higher than previous estimates, includes the costs of crime, social security and bringing drugs offenders to justice, as well as the bill to the NHS.

Annual costs per user
Young recreational and older regular users: Less than 20
Class A users: 2,030
Problem users: 11,000
Home Office Minister Bob Ainsworth revealed the figures as he told a committee of MPs the government needed to focus its efforts against Class A drugs like heroin and cocaine.

A new report by the University of York puts the overall price of drugs to society at between 10.9bn and 18.8bn in England and Wales.

Giving evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee, Mr Ainsworth stressed the importance of treatment schemes in the fight against drug abuse.

"We know treatment works: for every 1 spent, 3 is saved in criminal justice costs," said the minister.

Victims' costs

The as yet unpublished new research estimates drug abuse adds between 3.7bn and 6.8bn to the costs of the NHS, criminal justice system and state benefits.

The rest of the drugs bill comes from "social costs", it says, explaining these are mainly costs of crime to its victims.

The overwhelming majority of that bill - 99% - is run up by problem users who rely on drugs in their lives and each costs around 11,000 a year.

Home Secretary David Blunkett has said he wants to reclassify cannabis from class B to class C as part of the drive to free up resources to tackle harder drugs.

Mr Ainsworth backed that approach, telling the MPS: "We know we need to focus on class A drugs, treatment and harm reduction.

Brixton pilot

"That, in part, is why the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is reviewing the cannabis classification."

The advisory council's report is due out soon and will be examined alongside a separate study on a scheme running in Brixton, London.

In Brixton, the Metropolitan Police have cautioned people found carrying small amounts of cannabis, rather than arresting them.

At an earlier hearing of the committee, the Police Federation argued some drug dealers were exploiting that experiment to peddle more dangerous drugs.

See also:

04 Feb 02 | Interviews
'Cannabis policy cannot continue'
22 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Dealers 'exploiting' cannabis change
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