The UK is the “addiction capital of Europe”, with some of its highest rates of opiate addiction and dependence on alcohol, a major new report warns.
Alcohol and drug abuse costs the UK £21bn and £15bn respectively, and the crisis of increasing addiction is fuelling the breakdown of society, according to the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ).
The think-tank says the UK has become a hub for websites peddling “legal highs” or “club drugs” such as salvia or Green Rolex, which are ordered online and distributed around the country by postmen and couriers who unwittingly become drug mules.
People can also buy class A drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine from mail order websites.
The CSJ criticised the Government for what it calls an “inadequate response to heroin addiction”, saying that more than 40,000 drug addicts in England have been stranded on the substitute methadone, which is used to wean addicts off heroin.
The report also highlighted the spiralling rate of alcohol-related hospital admissions in England, which it says have doubled in a decade, and warns that Britain is facing “an epidemic of drink-related conditions”.
CSJ director Christian Guy said: “While our addiction problem damages the economy, it is the human consequences that present the real tragedy.
“Drug and alcohol abuse fuels poverty and deprivation, leading to family breakdown and child neglect, homelessness, crime, debt and long-term worklessness.
“From its impact on children to its consequences for pensioners, dependency destroys lives, wrecks families and blights communities.”
The CSJ’s report, No Quick Fix, found that the UK has Europe’s highest rate of addiction to opiates, such as heroin, and the highest lifetime use of amphetamines, cocaine and ecstasy.
More young people have used “legal highs”, or new psychoactive substances (NPS), in the UK than anywhere else in Europe, representing a quarter of the European total.
The CSJ found that one in 12 young people between the ages of 15 and 24 in the UK – more than 670,000 – said they have taken NPS drugs. In England 6,486 people were treated in 2011/12 for abusing these types of drugs, an increase of 39 per cent since 2005/06. Figures revealed deaths involving “legal highs” in England and Wales increased from 29 in 2011 to 52 last year, the CSJ said.
The think-tank criticised the Government’s response to the growing crisis as “bureaucratic and inadequate”, saying that while it had used temporary banning orders three times to control 15 substances since 2010, during this time more than 150 new substances have emerged and are available in shops and online.
Regarding alcohol, the CSJ found dependence among British men is second in western Europe and seventh overall, while alcohol dependence among women is higher in Britain than anywhere in Europe.
One in four adults in England drink to harmful levels, and one in 20 are “dependent drinkers”, it said.
Alcohol-related deaths have doubled since 1991 across the UK, and liver disease is now one of the “big five” killers, alongside heart and lung disease, cancer and strokes.
It also found a stark North/South divide over alcohol abuse, with 26 of the 30 local authorities with the highest rate of alcohol-related admissions in the North.
The CSJ said the Government had recognised the dangers of excessive drinking, but criticised its failure to tackle cheap alcohol through minimum unit pricing or a “treatment tax”, with revenue put into treatment for addicts.
Home Affairs Select Committee chair Keith Vaz said: “Today’s report by the Centre for Social Justice on legal highs and the figures for the numbers of deaths linked to legal highs is truly shocking. The current system of temporary banning orders simply cannot keep up with the market in new psychoactive substances.”