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Drug misuse: social harm

Use of drugs can have harmful and wide-reaching consequences for individuals, their family and friends as well as communities and the economy. Drug use may lead to physical and psychological harm of the user, but may also incur possible criminal penalty and lead to criminal behaviour. This section describes some of the consequences of drug use on the user's social situation, their family and the wider environment, from a range of different sources.

Perceptions of drug misuse

The public perceive drug abuse to be a social problem in Scotland. This is reflected in the responses to the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (Tables) (2014/15):

Key Points:

  • In 23% of violent crime the victim perceived the offender was under the influence of drugs (Victim Form (crime category breaks) – P30, Table 28).
  • Drug dealing/drug abuse was the most common perceived crime in the local area with 42% of people believing it to be very common or fairly common, although this decreased from 48% in 2010/11 (Report P67- 68).
  • Women perceived drug abuse to be a greater problem; 44% of women believed that drug dealing and drug abuse was common in their local area compared to 40% of men (Modules A, B, C & D (demographic breaks) - P59, Table 32).
  • Those living in the most deprived areas were also more likely to perceive drug dealing and drug abuse as common in their area (64% in the 15% most deprived areas compared to 38% in the remaining areas) (Modules A, B, C & D (demographic breaks) - P60, Table 32).

The Scottish Household Survey 2016 found that a much lower percentage of respondents, (12%), considered drug misuse or dealing fairly or very common in their neighbourhood (Table 4.5). This percentage has changed little since the question was first asked in 2005. In 2016, a larger percentage of individuals in the most deprived 10% of Scottish neighbourhoods (using the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation) considered drug misuse/dealing to be a fairly or very common problem compared to those in the least deprived 10% of Scottish neighbourhoods (30% and 3% respectively) (Table 4.6).

A report on the findings from the 2009 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey Module about public attitudes towards illegal drugs and drug misuse in Scotland.

Key points:

  • Around a third of respondents aged 18+ reported that they had ever tried cannabis. However, there are marked variations by age and gender, with men more likely to have tried cannabis than women (41% compared with 22%) and those aged under 45 more likely to have tried it than those aged 45+.
  • Just one in 10 said that discarded needles or syringes were a 'very' or 'quite a big' problem in their area, although this figure rose to 21% in the most deprived areas of Scotland.
  • Support for legalising cannabis fell from 37% in Scotland in 2001 to 24% in 2009. Even among those who had themselves tried cannabis, support for its legalisation fell from 70% in 2001 to 47% in 2009.
  • 45% of people agreed that 'most people who end up addicted to heroin have only themselves to blame', while 27% disagreed. Around half (53%) disagreed that 'most heroin users come from difficult backgrounds' (29% agreed).
  • There was no consensus amongst the public on what approach the government should prioritise to tackle heroin use in Scotland - 32% chose 'tougher penalties for those who take heroin', 32% 'more help for people who want to stop using heroin' and 28% 'more education about drugs'. However, four out of five (80%) agreed that 'the only real way of helping drug addicts is to get them to stop using drugs altogether'.

Drug-related offences

The number of drug offences is published in the annual Recorded Crime in Scotland Report (Tables).

Key points:

  • In the financial year 2016/17 there were 32,641 drug crimes recorded by Police Scotland; an 8% decrease compared to the previous year (2015/16: 35,479) and substantially lower than in 2007/08 (40,746) (Table A5).
  • Of these drug crimes, 94% were 'cleared up' by police (i.e. criminal proceedings were considered). This was the lowest drug offence 'clear up' percentage within the past ten years (from 2007-08 to 2013-14, an average of around 99% of drug offences were ‘cleared up’) (Table 1).
  • 85% (27,766) of recorded drug crimes were for 'possession of drugs'. A further 11% (3,531) were for 'possession of drugs with intent to supply' (Table A5).

Recorded drug offence data from 2006/07 to 2015/16 has also been made available at the council area level (Drug Related Offences by Council Area 2015/16 (83Kb)).  

Key points:

  • Overall crude rates of recorded drug offences in Scotland in 2015/16 ranged from 130.1 offences per 10,000 population in Glasgow City to 22.5 per 10,000 population in Na h-Eileanan Siar (Table C1.1).
  • The crude Scotland rate of recorded offences for possession of drugs with intent to supply in 2015/16 (7.4 offences per 10,000 population) was similar to the rates observed from 2012/13 (7.3 offences per 10,000 population) to 2014/15 (6.9) (Table C1.2).
  • In 2015/16, Stirling had the highest crude rate of recorded offences for possession of drugs with intent to supply (16.3 offences per 10,000 population), compared to a national average of 7.4 per 10,000 population (Table C1.2).
  • The crude Scotland rate of recorded offences for possession of drugs (55.7 offences per 10,000 population) in 2015/16 was consistent with the rates observed from 2010/11 (51.6 offences per 10,000 population) to 2014/15 (59.2) (Table C1.2).
  • In 2015/16, Inverclyde had the highest rate of recorded offences for possession of drugs with 117.1 offences per 10,000 population, compared with a national average of 55.7 per 10,000 population (Table C1.2).

The Scottish Government Justice Department has published the statistics release Homicide in Scotland 2016/17 (Tables).

Key points:

  • Annual numbers of homicide in Scotland have shown a downward trend between 2007/08 (115) and 2016/17 (64). In 2016/17, among victims in solved homicides (60), the motive was drug related in 21 (35%) cases. This was the highest annual number and percentage of drug-related homicides recorded in the last ten years. In 19 drug-related homicides the victim was male and in two drug-related homicides the victim was female (Table 13).
  • Of the 77 persons accused in homicide cases in 2016/17, two (3%) were reported to have been under the influence of drugs and five (6%) were reported to be under the influence of drugs and alcohol at the time of the homicide. Because of the low numbers of homicides each year and the high number of cases in which drug or alcohol involvement was unknown (47 in 2016/17), no reliable trend in the numbers of accused under the influence of drugs or drugs and alcohol could be identified (Table 15).

Court Activity and Sentencing

The annual publication Criminal Proceedings in Scotland, published by the Scottish Government, gives a summary of cases dealt with by courts, sentencing outcomes and characteristics of people proceeded against. The key points below summarise information on drug crime proceedings that are published in the 2015/16 report. These cover crimes of possession, possession with intent to supply and other crimes such as illegal importation and production. These statistics do not include crimes committed under the influence of drugs.

Key points:

  • In 2015/16, there were a total of 7,152 people convicted where a drugs offence was the main charge in a proceeding (Table 2a). This represents 87% of all drugs proceedings (Table 2b). Where an individual was subject to two (or more) separate proceedings where a drugs offence was the main charge, they are counted two (or more) times in this total.

  • Following a decrease from 8,904 convictions in 2006/07, there has been an increase in the number of people convicted of a drugs offence from 6,449 in 2012/13 to 7,152 in 2015/16 (Table 4b).
  • In 2015/16, males accounted for 89% of drugs convictions (6,331) (Table 8c). Over half of males convicted of drug offences (3,343 or 53%) were aged over 30 (Table 6a).
  • Almost half (3,410 or 48%) of all drug offence convictions in 2015/16, resulted in the individual being fined, 1,233 (17%) resulted in a community payback order, 1,212 (17%) resulted in admonition and 1,010 (14%) resulted in a custodial sentence (i.e. in prison, a young offenders institution, a supervised release order or extended sentence) (Table 8a). This pattern was broadly comparable with the penalties imposed for all (including non-drug) convictions.
  • The average length of a custodial sentence for a drug offence was 476 days, significantly below the mean duration for this offence type from 2006/07 to 2014/15 (560 days) (Table 10c).

Detailed data on drug-related criminal proceedings in Scotland from 1990/91 to 2015/16 has also been made available (Drug Related Criminal Proceedings 2015/16(109Kb)).

Key points:

  • In 2015/16, there were 7,152 people convicted in cases where a drugs charge was the main offence. Of these convictions, 48% were for class A drugs (e.g. cocaine, ecstasy, heroin), 39% for class B drugs (e.g. amphetamines, cannabis) and seven per cent for class C drugs (e.g. benzodiazepines) (Table C2). For the remaining six per cent of convictions the drug type was unknown.

  • In 2015/16, for people convicted of ‘possession with intent to supply’, the most common sentence given was a custodial sentence (49% of convictions), while the most common sentence for ‘possession’ was a fine (61%) (Table C3).

  • The average age of people convicted for drug offences in 2015/16 was 33 years. The average age has increased from 29 years in 2006/07. There was little difference in the average age of those convicted of ‘possession’ of drugs (32 years) and those convicted of ‘possession of drugs with intent to supply’ (33 years) (Table C4).

Social Work Diversion Schemes aim to provide persons accused of minor offences with support and advice in relation to problems associated with their offending. In such cases, prosecution is waived, subject to successful completion of the scheme. The 2015/16 Criminal Justice Social Work data was published by the Scottish Government Justice Analytical Services in February 2017. 2015/16 Diversion from Prosecution (392Kb) data was made available alongside this publication.

Key points:

  • In Scotland, 3,050 referrals to diversion from prosecution schemes were made in 2015/16, resulting in 2,757 assessments being undertaken and 1,863 cases being commenced (Table: DP cases 2). The number of cases commenced was roughly the same as in 2014/15 (1,869) (Table: DP cases 1).
  • Of 1,863 cases commenced, an individual was referred for drug treatment/education in 50 cases (3%). This was similar to 2014/15, when 48 (3%) of 1,869 cases commenced resulted in a referral for drug treatment/education (Table: DP cases 2).
  • In 2015/16, 40% (20) of referrals for drug treatment/education as part of a social work diversion from prosecution scheme were made in Dumfries & Galloway Council/Community Justice Authority area. A further 12 (24%) of referrals were made in the Falkirk area (Table: DP cases 2).

Probation Orders (POs), Community Service Orders (CSOs) and Supervised Attendance Orders (SAOs) were replaced by Community Payback Orders (CPOs) for offences committed from 1 February 2011. 2015/16 Community Payback Orders (592Kb) data was published by the Scottish Government Justice Analytical Services in February 2017.

Key points:

  • 19,410 CPOs were imposed in Scotland in 2015/16 in respect of 16,491 individuals. This was an increase from 19,064 orders made in 2014/15 in respect of 16,327 individuals (Table: CPOs - ords & inds).
  • 166 (1%) of CPOs imposed in 2015/16 included a requirement for the offender to attend drug treatment. This was similar to 2014/15, when 178 (1%) CPOs included this requirement (Table: CPO-reqs).
  • In 2015/16, the Council/Community Justice Authority area where the highest number of drug treatment requirements were imposed were Dundee City (24 (14%) requirements), Perth & Kinross and Falkirk (both 20 (12%) requirements). The same areas also imposed the highest numbers of drug treatment requirements in 2014/15 (Table: CPO-reqs).

A Drug Treatment and Testing Order (DTTO) is a community sentence for offenders with drug misuse problems, who might otherwise receive a custodial sentence. This order includes a requirement for regular reviews by the court, attendance at specialist drug treatment services and frequent drug testing throughout the lifetime of the order: The 2015/16 DTTO data (1,219Kb) was published by the Scottish Government Justice Analytical Services in February 2017.

Key Points:

  • In 2015/16, there were 522 orders made, relating to 479 individuals. This was a slight decrease from the 551 orders (521 individuals) made in 2014/15 (Table: DTTOs).
  • The highest rate of DTTOs imposed in 2015/16 was observed in City of Edinburgh Council/Community Justice Authority area (3.8 orders per 10,000 adult population), followed by Midlothian (3.3) (Table: DTTOs).
  • In 2015/16, the majority of DTTOs (412, 79%) were given to males, those aged between 31 and 40 years (243, 47%) and to those who were unemployed (312, 60%). The percentage of those receiving DTTOs who are over 40 has increased from 4% to 19% since 2004/05 (Tables: DTTOs – age and gender & DTTOs – employment status).
  • In 2015/16, the average length of DTTOs imposed was 18 months, the same as in 2014/15 (Tables: DTTOs – length).
  • A total of 555 DTTOs were terminated during 2015/16 (including those imposed outwith the period in question). Of those terminations, 275 (50%) were due to the DTTO being successfully completed (Table: DTTOs – termination reasons).

The publication Reconviction Rates in Scotland: 2014/15 Offender Cohort (Tables (140Kb)) reports on those convicted in 2014/15 and then subsequently reconvicted in the following financial year (2015/16). This publication uses two data sources to determine reconviction up to one year after the index offence (Scottish offenders index) and up to ten years before the index offence (criminal proceedings data).

Key points:

Scottish Offenders Index data

  • In 2014/15, 43,634 individuals were convicted of an offence. Of these, 28% were reconvicted within a year. The reconviction rate has been slowly decreasing since the 2002/03 cohort (33%). Among the 2014/15 cohort, the average number of reconvictions per offender was 0.50, which has also decreased slowly since the 2002/03 cohort (0.64) (Table 1).
  • In 2014/15, 5,733 individuals were convicted of drug offences. Of these, 23% were reconvicted for an offence within one year with an average of 0.36 reconvictions per offender. Both indicators have shown a decreasing trend since peaking in the 2005/06 cohort (29.5 and 0.47 respectively) (Table 6).
  • Among the 5,733 individuals convicted of a drug offence in 2014/15, reconvictions for further drug offences (10%), breach of the peace (6%) and crimes of dishonesty (6%) were most common (Table 7).
  • Offenders given a DTTO had the highest reconviction rate of all available disposals (63%), although this had decreased from 79% in 2003/04. Individuals given a DTTO also had the highest average number of reconvictions per offender (1.71) compared to other disposals. This had also decreased over time (2.4 in 2002/03) (Table 8).

Criminal Proceedings data

  • Of the 45,230 individuals convicted in 2015/16, 64% had at least one previous conviction in the past ten years, with 13% having over ten previous convictions. Around one in five individuals (8,562, 19%) had been convicted of drug offences in the past ten years (Table 15).
  • Of the 8,562 individuals convicted of drug offences in the past ten years, 81% had been convicted of '1 or 2' drug offences, while 19% had been convicted of three or more drug offences (Table 15).
  • Of the 8,562 individuals convicted of drug offences in the past ten years, 63% were over 30, and 88% were male (Table 15).
  • Comparing 2015/16 figures with the earliest available previous offending statistics (the 2010/11 cohort of convicted individuals) shows the percentage previously convicted of drug offences (11,733/43,974, 27% in 2010/11) has decreased over time. Among those previously convicted of drug offences, the percentage with three or more previous drug offences has decreased (3,923/11,733, 33% in 2010/11), the percentage aged over 30 has increased (58% in 2010/11) and the percentage who were male has remained roughly similar (87% in 2010/11) (Table 19 (270Kb)).

Please note: If you require the most up-to-date data available, please check the data sources directly as new data may have been published since these data pages were last updated. Although we endeavour to ensure that the data pages are kept up-to-date, there may be a time lag between new data being published and the relevant ScotPHO web pages being updated.

Page last updated: 03 November 2017

© Scottish Public Health Observatory 2014