By Ian Hamilton and Niamh Eastwood / The Conversation

Once a year we get a glimpse of how many people are using drugs such as heroin and cocaine in England and Wales. The Home Office conducts an annual household survey that asks people if they have used drugs and, if they have, to provide some details about which drugs and how often they have consumed them. For the fourth year in a row, overall drug use has risen. An interesting fact on its own, but as always, the devil is in the detail.

Class A drugs including cocaine are proving to be popular, second only to cannabis in popularity. Nearly a million people now report using the drug. Fewer people report using opiates, such as heroin – but this is largely due to limitations of the survey which, as a household exercise, will not pick up certain groups, such as the homeless or other transient populations. Equally, the survey will not capture the experience of students – another important cohort.

One of the most striking elements of the data is the ease with which people, especially young people, can obtain controlled drugs. In 2018-19, almost 19% of respondents to the survey reported that it was “very easy” to get drugs within 24 hours. This a significant increase on the previous year’s figure of 14.5%.

Like ordering pizza

More than half of all young people, aged 16-24 years, said they could get drugs within 24 hours. This increased access to the drugs market could be as a result of more online availability through the dark web. Equally, the drugs market has developed in the way other legal markets have in the 21st century. Drugs can now be delivered straight to your door, often faster than pizza and there have been reports that suppliers are offering loyalty cards to customers.

Class A drugs such as cocaine carry the most severe penalties under current drug laws, so why are an increasing number of people willing to break the law? Perhaps recent high-profile political confessions of drug use have added to people’s perception that it’s acceptable – or at least not as frowned upon – to use drugs.