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Heroin Overview - History

United Kingdom

The History

Over the past few years, good harvests in Asia and the Far East, new growing areas in Afghanistan and the Asian republics of the CIS, the ‘heroin for guns’ trade in the Yugoslav war and relaxed border controls in western Europe, have all contributed to the easier passage of heroin across Europe.


In the UK Doctors must notify the Home Office of any opiate users they see in their practice. Notifications have been rising steadily by around 17% each year to 1995, when nearly 38,000 persons were notified. It is generally accepted that the number of people using opiates on a heavy and regular basis is several times (perhaps even five times) the number notified to the Home Office. Notified addicts generally inject and are very heavy users; the percentage of those notified who said they injected their drugs (which might not just be heroin) fell from 64% in 1990 to 56% in 1994, but the absolute numbers of those injecting continue to rise. In 1994, 1500 of those notified were under 21 years old.

Most notified heroin users are 25 years old and over, accounting for nearly 70% of notifications in 1994 with only 9.5% under 21, although the numbers of those notified under the age of 21 doubled between 1990-4. In the younger age groups, heroin is mainly used on an intermittent or ‘recreational’ basis, the drug often being sniffed or smoked rather than injected. For those who continue their use, injecting often becomes the preferred method.

The available surveys do not suggest that opiate use is yet widespread in the general population, with commonly 1% or less of young people admitting heroin use at all. Nevertheless in some area (e.g. Deprived inner city areas) heroin use is quite common with increasing number of those under 21 becoming involved. Many of these users, e.g. those in care or homeless, will not be included in survey groups which tend to focus on school students, selected groups for market research, etc.

It is to be noted though, that this information is from 1995. Heroin use in the UK has been steadily on the rise, and the figures will be a lot larger by now. Heroin is increasingly becoming the ‘in’ drug.


The number of addict deaths has steadily increased over the years from 166 in 1985 to 562 in 1993. Of that latest figure, over half were directly from overdosing of which 40% were attributed to methadone while heroin was only implemented in about one third of the deaths for that year. Other deaths were from natural causes, non-accidental injury such as homicide, suicide, etc. However, estimating the true nature of mortality is complicated by the fact that figures are compiled from a number of different sources and, for example, depend in part on the outcome of Coroner’s inquests where not all information about the circumstances on an individual death may be available.



Heroin use among males is 35% higher than use among females. In 1995/96, there were thought to be approximately 298,000 males using heroin and only 144,000 females. The difference in the amount of people using heroin among different races was substantial. The number of White individuals using heroin was estimated to be 304,000 in 1995/96. The number of Black individuals using heroin was 91,000, less than one third the amount of white individuals. The number of Hispanic individuals using heroin was 39,000 and all others together came to about 7,000. The fact that Black and Hispanic individuals are minorities must be taken into consideration when looking at this data. Their populations are much smaller and this will in turn make their statistics smaller.

External resource on heroin abuse in teens: http://www.therecoveryvillage.com/what-we-treat/substance-abuse-treatment/heroin/



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