The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971

Substance misuse is at an all time high in modern society. What factors have contributed to the increased prevalence of substance misuse in society?


A survey conducted by the Home Office in England and Wales in 2018/2019 found that 9.4% of the adults aged 16-59 had taken drugs at least once within 12 months. Further to this finding, it was discovered that 20.3% of adults aged 16-24 years old had taken a drug with the last year (The Home Office, 2019). Both of these percentages were at least 20% higher than the previous survey completed in 2017/2018 indicating a rise in the use of drugs in England and Wales, but why?

This report aims to answer the question; What factors have contributed to the increased prevalence of substance misuse in society? Using reliable sources of information and surveys such as that of the Home Office. This report also aims to provide an understanding as to why the use of drugs has increased since the first crime survey in 1996 and what can be done further to decrease these numbers.

The use of drugs in England and Wales

The use of drugs in England and Wales has been increasing for many years, a survey conducted by the Home Office found that between 2018 and 2019 the use of drugs had risen by at least 20% since 2017. It also indicated that drugs are being used by people of all ages and all backgrounds. A further survey completed by the UK National Statistics showed that Cannabis is the most commonly used illegal drug in England and Wales, having increased 7.6% in 2018/2019 since 2016/2017 (Gov.UK, 2019)

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is the legislation that governs and protects society from the misuse of harmful illegal drugs such as Heroin a Class A drug and Cannabis a Class B drug. This Act came into force in 1991 with the purpose of controlling the illegal use of drugs, psychotic substances and narcotics.

Further Statistics

A report written by Public Health England, addressed the risks and issues of drug misuse and the effect these can have on the population of England and Wales. They found that there was a correlation between the age of a person and drug that they use, for example, there is a decrease in those aged 16-24 using the drug Heroin, however, there has been a steady increase in the use of this drug amongst those aged 35 and over.

Further to this, the statistics also show that the most commonly used drug in all ages are Heroin and Cannabis. In 2015-2016 16% of 16-24-year olds reported the use of Cannabis whilst 18% reported the use of Heroin in the last year. Similarly, 7% of 16-59-year olds reported the use of Cannabis and 9% reported the use of Heroin in the last year (Public Health England, 2017)

Should the prevalence of drug use continue, the report concludes that the rise is drug related deaths with continue to increase having already increased dramatically over the last 20 years. However, it also states that there has been a dramatic increase in the percentage of those who are receiving or requesting drug related treatment.

Drug use and mental health

There is a large increase in the number of drug users in the UK, however, there has been a very dramatic increase in drug use specifically in Scotland with drug related deaths expected to rise to 1000. NHS Shetland found that there was a positive correlation between adverse mental health and drug use (BBC News, 2019), could this be the reason for the increase in drug use?

Although there is not a causal relationship between drug abuse and ill mental health, there is certainly a correlation. Each type of drug has a different effect of one’s mental health, for example; Cannabis has been known to be used by those who suffer from anxiety and depression as it calms the body and the mind, however, Class A drugs such as Cocaine are known to raise the heart rate and increase mentality causing overthinking, panic and sometime hysteria. Paired with someone who also has mental health problems such as schizophrenia or bi-polar these drugs can then cause a mental break causing psychotic outbursts or worse, offences committed.

There are different types of drugs that each have different effects on the brain for example there are stimulants, depressants, analgesics and Hallucinogens.

  • Stimulants such as amphetamines, crack and cocaine. These act on the nervous system and increase brain activity
  • Depressants such as Valium act on the nervous system and decrease brain activity
  • Analgesics such as Heroin and Opium make users less sensitive to pain both psychically and emotionally and produce feelings of contentment
  • Hallucinogens such as Cannabis and LSD heighten sensations can distort the way in which one sees certain things

It is further believed that the ‘come down’ from the use of these drugs can also have a seriously detrimental effect on one’s mental state causing anger, upset and stress. It’s this anger that can lead someone to commit heinous offences that perhaps they otherwise wouldn’t have had they not taken the substance.

Drugs and Poverty

Poverty is defined as those who suffer inequalities due to social and economic standing and the term typically refers to the state of one who lacks a certain amount of material resources’ (Alcohol Rehab, 2019). Statistics have shown that those who are; early school leavers, unemployed, or are in poor and insecure housing are those who are most likely to substance abuse.

Poverty and substance abuse commonly walk hand in hand, what is worse is that those in poverty are commonly unable to afford what is known as ‘high grade’ which means that a lot of the drugs in which they consume are mixed with many other things in order to increase street value, however, this also increases the risk of taking them which could result in offending or even death.

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 came into force in 1991 with the intention of controlling the use of illegal drugs such as Heroin and Cannabis. It includes the offences of; Possession with the intent to supply, concerned in the supply, possession and supplying or offering to supply a controlled drug. The interpretation of each offence is in Section 37 of the Act.

The offences within this Act range from either way and summary only to indictable with a minimum sentence of 3 months and a £2000 fine to life. The Act sets our 4 main drug categories; Class A such as Heroin, Class B such as Cannabis, Class C such as GHB or Diazepam and temporary class drugs.

Crimes affected by drug use

There are many crimes that can be affected by the use of drugs, as well as there being many crimes that are caused due to the use of drugs. With the most common drug related offences being;

  • Being concerned in the supply of drugs
  • Supply or offering to supply of drugs
  • Possession
  • Possession with the intent to supply

There are also offences that the use of drugs can cause such as;

  • Driving under the influence
  • Theft
  • Assault (Common and aggravated)
  • Burglary
  • Robbery


It is clear from the statistics and surveys shown, that there is a rapid increase in those using illegal drugs such as Heroin and Cocaine. The statistics show that not only has this number increased but that it is at an all-time high. Research shows that there are a number of contributing factors such as mental health poverty and unemployment which have contributed to this rise. However, the real question is; is there enough resources such as rehabilitation and medical assistance to help those with substance abuse issues?

A report written by the Guardian stated that the number of drug users in England and Wales has risen to an all-time high, hitting 2.7 Million. ‘The increase was driven by more people saying they had used cocaine, ecstasy, LSD and ketamine. Nearly 1 million people – or 3% of adults – used class A drugs including powder cocaine, heroin and ecstasy in 2013/14.’ (The Guardian, N.D.) The report also states that 57% of drug users claimed that they had bought drugs from a friend or someone that was known to them.

However, in addition to the above statistics, the crime prevention minister, Norman Baker, stated that there has been a rise in those who are seeking medical assistance or rehabilitation for their drug use and that drug related deaths have plummeted over the last 3 years with more people freeing themselves from drug dependency.

The statistics given by Public Health England for the years 2018-2019 show that 268’251 adults were in contact with illegal drugs in April 2018 and March 2019. However, there was a 3% increase in those receiving treatment, rising from 127’307 to 132’210 (Public Health England, 2019) The figures show that although there is an increasing number of those who are drug reliant or using drugs, there is also an increase in those who are seeking rehabilitation and medical assistance.

The reasons for drug use are not always clear, however, what is clear is that mental health and poverty are contributors to this increase. It is of the view of the public that should there be more resources to assist those with drug abuse problems, then this number will decrease. Should this number decrease, this could also decrease those in poverty as they would be helped with job searching and the locating of adequate housing.

by Shelby Keppel





The Home Office, Drugs Misuse; Findings from the 2018/2019 Crime survey in England and Wales, 2019. [Online PDF] Accessible Via; [Last Accessed; 5th March 2020]

Gov.UK, Drug misuse: findings from the 2018 to 2019 CSEW, 2019. [Online PDF] Accessible Via; [Last Accessed; 8th March 2020]

Public Health England, An evidence review of the outcomes that can be expected of drug misuse treatment in England (2017). [Online PDF] Accessible Via; [Last Accessed 8th March 2020]

BBC News, Mental illness and trauma blamed for rising drug deaths, 2019 [Online] Accessible via; [Last Accessed 8th March 2020]

Alcohol Rehab, Poverty and substance abuse, 2019. [Online] Accessible Via; [Last Accessed 9th March 2020]

The Guardian, Number of drugs users in England and Wales rises to 2.7 Million, N.D. [Online] Accessible via (Last Accessed 9th March 2020)

Public Health England, Adult substance misuse treatment statistics 2018-2019, 2019. [online PDF] Accessible via; [Last Accessed; 9th March 2020]


Gov.UK, Criminal Justice Statistics Quarterly, 2019 [Online PDF] Accessible Via [Last Accessed; 8th March 2020]

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