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Drug Misuse in Scotland: Findings from the 1993 and 1996 Scottish Crime Surveys - Research Findings

DescriptionAs part of the 1993 Scottish Crime Survey (SCS), respondents between the ages of 16 and 59 were asked a series of questions about their knowledge and use of controlled drugs and solvents.
ISBN0 748 66039 9
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateJanuary 28, 1999
Crime and Criminal Justice Research Findings No 17 (1997)
Drug misuse in Scotland Findings from the 1993 and 1996 Scottish Crime Surveys
Simon Anderson, Social Research Unit, System Three
Dr Martin Frischer, University of Keele
ISBN 0-748-66039-9Publisher The Scottish Office
As part of the 1993 Scottish Crime Survey (SCS), respondents between the ages of 16 and 59 were asked a series of questions about their knowledge and use of controlled drugs and solvents. The results of the exercise provided the first nationally representative estimates of the prevalence of drug misuse experience across Scotland as a whole. The survey was repeated in 1996 and this paper provides an up-to-date picture of levels and patterns of drug misuse and examines changes over the intervening period. A more comprehensive analysis will be published later this year. This will include analysis of socio-demographic and geographic data as well as the age/sex breakdowns reported here.
Main findings
  • Between the 1993 and 1996 SCS, there was an increase in levels of reported drug misuse, particularly among young people. This indicates that the upward trend in drug misuse has not yet peaked.
  • Cannabis remains the most widely used drug, although there were statistically significant increases in use over the previous 12 months of cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy and (unprescribed) valium.
  • Use of heroin, crack cocaine and methadone remains rare, with fewer than 1 respondent in 100 reporting ever having used each of these substances. However, for various reasons, a survey of this kind may not be the most appropriate means of determining how widespread use of these drugs actually is,
  • Gender differences indicate that while women may have a similar propensity to experiment with drugs, they are less likely to continue using drugs on a regular basis.
  • To summarise, drug misuse shows no sign of decreasing in Scotland. In tact, analysis of the two sweeps of the SCS suggests that it has increased between 1993 and 1996. Patterns of drug misuse may be changing, with evidence of some increase use of ecstasy, valium and cocaine, but there is little evidence that the vast majority of drug users progress from 'soft drugs' (e.g. cannabis) to 'hard drugs' (e.g. heroin). Women appear to be less inclined to continue drug use after initial experimentation.
Introduction
Despite widespread concern about drug misuse in recent years, relatively little is still known about the precise scale and nature of the problem. By its very nature, drug misuse tends to be difficult to quantify. since it is a 'victimless' crime and is, therefore, under-recorded in 'official' statistics (such as those of crimes recorded by the police or seizures of drugs by customs authorities).
By asking a representative sample of the population directly about their use of drugs, sample surveys can provide an important complement to existing indicators. Moreover, by repeating such surveys at regular intervals, it is possible to build up a picture of changes in patterns and levels of drug misuse over time.
The Scottish Crime Survey (SCS) is primarily a survey of public perceptions and experiences of crime, but it also includes an additional self-completion component which includes a number of questions about awareness and use of drugs. In this way, the 1993 SOS was able to provide the first nationally-representative estimates of levels of drug misuse in Scotland. The 1996 survey offers an important opportunity for mapping changes in drug use and awareness over the intervening period.
The 1996 survey was based on an overall sample of 5,O40 households and on drugs questionnaires completed by 3,175 individuals between the ages of 16 and 59. The response rate for the survey as a whole was 77% and, of those who responded within the target age group, the drugs questionnaire was returned by 94%. Having completed the questionnaire, respondents were asked to seal it in the envelope provided and to return it to the interviewer.
The fieldwork for both the 1993 and 1996 SCS was carried out by the MVA Consultancy.
Limitations of the data
Useful though surveys such as the SCS are, they have a number of important limitations First more serious drug users are likely to be under-represented in households, being relatively more likely to be homeless. in prison or hospital, or in a residential treatment centre. Secondly, people surveyed in this way may deliberately under-report their use of drugs, particularly more heavily stigmatised substances and especially in the context of a survey about crime. This is particularly likely in relation to 'hard drugs', such as opiates, the prevalence of which may be better explored through other methods. Finally, people may forget occasional use of controlled substances, particularly if they currently regard themselves as non-users.
All of these factors make it likely that the survey to some extent underestimates the actual prevalence of drug misuse. Some over-reporting may also occur, but it has not been shown to be a major problem in surveys of this kind -indeed, only 8 respondents reported use of a bogus drug in 1996, 'Semeron', and these may have been mistakes rather than exaggerations.
Finally, it should be emphasised that the survey does not necessarily tell us about current or very. recent drug misuse. Its two main indicators are use 'ever' and 'in the last 12 months'. Of those people who have used drugs ever, many will not have done so in the past year (or even in the past five or ten years). The proportion of 'ever' users is valuable, however, as an indication of the extent of drug use experience (however recent) in the Scottish population, since this is likely to affect prevailing attitudes towards the subject and the context within which public education campaigns must operate.
While it would, in principle, be possible for a survey of this kind to collect more detailed information about the frequency and recency of drug misuse, time and resource limitations have to date made it impossible to do so within the framework of the Scottish Crime Survey.

The questions asked and the drugs asked about

Use of drugs in the last year
The most reliable indicator of prevailing patterns of drug misuse offered by the survey is the question on use of different substances in the past 12 months.
Overall, some 9% of the sample in the 1996 survey had used at least one of the substances listed in this time period. It should be remembered, however, that the survey covered a broad age range (from 16 to
59) and, as one would expect, reported drug misuse was much higher among younger age groups. While 23% of 16 to 19 year-olds and 29% of 20 to 24 yearolds reported using at least one of the substances in the previous 12 months, the same was true of only 13% of 25 to 29 year-olds and just 4% of those aged 30 or over.
As Figure 1 shows, across all age groups - but especially among those aged 20 to 24 - men were more likely than women to have used drugs in the previous 12 months. Overall, 12% of men and 7% of women had done so.

Figure 1 - Use of drugs in last 12 months by age and sex

Use of drugs 'ever'
What proportion of respondents had used drugs over a longer time frame? Overall, 23% of respondents in the 1996 survey reported ever having used one or more of the substances on the list.
Again, men were more likely than women to report lifetime drug use (26% compared with 1<9%). As Figure 2 below shows, this broad pattern was repeated across all age groupings, though the gap was relatively narrow among those under the age of 25.
The gap between use ever and use in the last year is wider for young women than young men, suggesting that the former may have a more fleeting involvement in drug misuse and that desistance from drug misuse may begin, on average, at an earlier age.
The results suggest that between 600,000 and 750,000 Scottish residents between the ages of 16 and 59 have tried drugs at some point in their lives. It should be emphasised, however, that the number of current users would be considerably less. Moreover, as we shall see, much of this drug use experience will be limited to cannabis.

Figure 2 - Use of any drugs 'ever' by age and sex

Use of specific substances
What substances did respondents report using? As Figure 3 shows, by far the m9st commonly used drug was cannabis, taken by 8% of the sample in the previous 12 months and by 19% at some point in time. The next most commonly used drugs were amphetamines (3% and 7% respectively), LSD (1% and 6%) and magic mushrooms (1% and 5%). Heroin, methadone and crack cocaine had each been used by fewer than one respondent in 100.

Figure 3 - Use of specific drugs, ever and in last 12 months

It needs to be emphasised, however, that the levels and patterns are very different for those in the younger age groups. Of those between the ages of 16 and 24, for example, 25% had used cannabis in the past 12 months, 12% amphetamines, 9% Ecstasy and 6% LSD. The corresponding figures for use ever are cannabis 40%, amphetamines 19%, LSD 16% and Ecstasy 15%. There is also evidence among younger respondents of significantly higher levels of opiate use -among 20 to 24 year-olds, for example, 8% had used either cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin or methadone in the previous 12 months and 12% had done so at some point in time (Figures 4 and 5).

Figure 4 - Use 'in last 12 months' of specific types of drugs by age

Figure 5 - Use 'ever' of specific types of drugs by age

It is not only levels of use that are different among the younger age groups. Patterns of consumption are also significantly different. Those using drugs in the younger age groups are likely to have used a greater number of different substances. For example, among those who had 'ever' used drugs, the average number of substances tried was 4.1 for
16-19 year-olds and 4.6 for 20 to 24 year-olds; the corresponding figures for 25 to 29 year-olds and 30 to 39 year-olds were 3.6 and 3.2.
Moreover, the proportion of 'ever' users having used cannabis alone (as opposed to cannabis and other substances or other substances only) was substantially lower among those under the age of 25 (33% compared with 46% of those aged 25 or over).
Trends in drug misuse 1993-96
What does the survey tell us about changes in the level and character of drug misuse in Scotland in the period between 1993 and 1996? As Figures 6 and 7 show, on both 'last l2 months' and 'ever' indicators, we see a marked increase across the sample as a whole and within specific age groups.

Figures 6 and 7: Trends in drug misuse 1993-96

On the most reliable measure of year-on-year change, the proportion of respondents who had used drugs in the past year, there was a slight but statistically significant increase, from 6.8% to 9.0% There was also a significant increase in the proportion of respondents who had 'ever' used drugs, from 18.3% to 22.5%.
To some extent, one would expect an increase in the older age groups on both measures as the 1993 survey suggested higher levels of use among younger people. As those people get older, some at least will carry their drug use into the subsequent age groups. What is striking about the figures, however, is that large increases are still occurring in the younger age groups, indicating that the upward trend in drug misuse has not yet peaked (or, at least, had not at the time of the survey in 1996). In terms of use in the last year, there are increases of the order of 3-4% in all four age groupings under 40, while experience of use 'ever' has risen from 29% to 39% among 16 to 19 year-olds and from 35% to 46% among those aged 20 to 24
There were statistically significant increases in the proportion of respondents reporting use of four specific substances - cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy and valium -over the past year. In terms of use ever, there were significant increases in the use of eight substances:
amphetamines, cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, methadone, temazepam and (unprescribed) valium.
In terms of trends in use of specific substances within the key drug-using age groups, there is evidence of a marked increase in opiate usage among those under 25. The proportion having used cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin or methadone in the last 12 months rose from 1.6% to 5.3%, while the proportion who had used at least one of those substances at some point in time went up from 3.2% to 8.7%. (This increase in opiate use is driven mainly by an increase in the use of cocaine - which more than doubled in terms of reported use 'ever' from 3.0% to 6.9% - though use of other opiates also increased.)
There was also , a substantial increase in the proportion of 16 to 24 year-olds who reported having used ecstasy in the previous 12 months, from 5.1% to 8.8%. The increase in ecstasy use in this age group was particularly marked among women, rising from 1.7% in 1993 to 5.9% in 1996
Overall, however, the magnitude of the increase in drug misuse was similar among male and female respondents.
As one would expect, the general increase in drug misuse was accompanied by an increase in the proportion of respondents who said they had heard of various substances (e.g. 89% of respondents in 1996 had heard of ecstasy, compared with 81% in 1993) or who reported having been offered drugs of any kind in the previous 12 months (14% compared with 11%).
Conclusions
The 1996 SCS has confirmed existing knowledge about patterns of drug misuse across different sections of the population - in particular, the slight gender differential and the heavy concentration of drug misuse among younger age groups. However, it also offers some important new insights into changes in levels and patterns of drug misuse over time. The results suggest quite clearly that the upward trend in drug misuse has not yet peaked. Some further work will be necessary, however, to disentangle the relationship between changes in the rate of use ever and in the last 12 months. In general, the results point to the need for more sophisticated 'measures of the frequency and recency of drug misuse experience.
Appendix - Prevalence of drug misuse, 'ever' and 'in the last 12 months'

Females (SCS 1996)

Males (SCS 1996)

All ages 16-59

16-19

20-24

25-29

30-39

40-59

Total

16-19

20-24

25-29

30-39

40-59

Total

SCS 1993

SCS 1996

change 1993-96

Any drug
Ever

38.2

42.5

27.6

14.2

10.6

19.1

40.1

49.5

42.3

32.4

11.6

26.7

18.3

22.5

4.2**
12 months

19.8

20.9

10.9

3.5

1.4

6.6

26.4

37.1

15.1

11.5

1.8

11.7

6.8

9.0

2.2**
Cannabis
Ever

35.7

38.5

23.9

11.8

5.7

15.3

38.6

45.0

38.3

28.1

8.8

23.3

14.5

19.0

4.5**
12 months

19.1

18.6

10.6

2.7

1.0

5.8

24.9

36.1

12.9

11.0

1.3

10.9

6.1

8.2

2.1**
Amphetamines
Ever

16.3

21.4

9.3

2.4

0.6

5.5

14.2

23.0

20.0

11.4

1.6

9.4

5.2

7.3

2.1**
12 months

9.9

11.0

3.2

0.4

0.1

2.5

8.2

17.9

3.9

2.8

0.1

3.9

2.2

3.1

0.9
LSD
Ever

11.5

12.2

4.3

1.3

0.7

3.4

15.9

22.8

14.2

7.3

1.7

8.0

4.0

5.5

1.5**
12 months

5.1

4.6

0.0

0.2

0.0

1.0

6.0

6.8

2.7

0.9

0.1

1.8

1.6

1.3

-0.3
Psilocybin
Ever

7.7

5.8

6.5

2.0

0.2

2.6

15.0

25.7

13.3

8.4

0.6

7.9

3.7

5.1

1.4*
12 months

3.0

1.7

0.0

0.2

0.1

0.5

9.4

8.9

2.1

0.7

0.1

2.2

1.0

1.3

0.3
Ecstasy
Ever

8.8

11.9

3.8

1.1

0.1

2.7

12.7

22.7

7.5

2.9

0.2

5.3

2.0

4.0

2.0**
12 months

3.5

7.5

1.6

0.2

0.0

1.3

6.6

15.5

1.9

1.2

0.1

2.9

1.1

2. I 5

1.0**
Temazepam
Ever

7.6

9.9

3.2

1.5

1.0

2.9

8.5

16.6

4.5

3.8

1.3

4.6

1.7

3.7

2.0**
12 months

1.3

4.1

0.4

0.4

0.4

0.9

6.1

5.8

1.1

0.4

0.1

1.4

0.9

1.1

0.2
Valium
Ever

4.2

7.1

3.2

2.3

4.8

4.1

2.9

11.6

3.3

3.5

3.6

4.4

2.7

4.2

1.5**
I2 months

2.9

2.8

0.0

0.7

0. I

0.8

1.9

4.6

0.0

0.5

0.5

1.1

0.3

0.9

0.6**
Solvents
Ever

3.2

4.8

3.1

0.7

0.2

1.4

6.6

8.2

6.1

2.7

0.1

2.8

1.6

2.1

0.5
12 months

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.2

0.0

0.1

1.9

0.0

0.0

0.7

0.0

0.3

0.1

0.2

0.1
Cocaine
Ever

6.4

5.3

2.5

1.1

0.1

1.7

2.2

12.1

4.4

5.3

0.8

3.7

1.5

2.6

1.1**
12 months

2.1

3.9

0.6

0.2

0.0

0.7

1.2

7.6

0.7

0.7

0.1

1.3

0.4

1.0

0.6**
Crack cocaine
Ever

3.4

1.2

0.5

0.8

0.0

0.7

0.0

1.6

2.0

0.8

0.2

0.7

0.4

0.7

0.3
12 months

0.0

1.2

0.5

0.2

0.0

0.3

0.0

0.3

0.0

0.1

0.1

0.1

-

0.2

0.2
Heroin
Ever

3.4

0.3

0.6

0.7

0.0

0.5

0.0

3.5

2.5

1.7

0.2

1.2

0.4

0.8

0.4
12 months

0.0

0.3

0.0

0.4

0.0

0.2

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.4

0.1

0.1

-

0.1

0.1
Methadone
Ever

3.6

1.3

0.6

0.7

0.0

0.7

1.0

4.0

2.4

1.5

0.3

1.3

0.2

0.9

0.7**
12 months

0.4

0.8

0.0

0.2

0.0

0.2

0.0

1.9

2.4

0.1

0.0

0.5

0.1

0.3

0.2
Source: 1993 and 1996 SCS ** Significant at the 95% confidence level; *significant at the 90% confidence level.
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