Crime Survey for England and Wales

Drug Misuse: Findings from the 2014/15 Crime Survey for England and Wales examines the extent and trends in illicit drug use among a nationally representative sample of 16 to 59 year olds resident in households in England and Wales. In 2014/15, for the first time the survey included questions relating to misuse of prescription painkillers (use of prescription analgesics by those for whom they are not prescribed). Findings include:

  • Overall, 5.4 % of adults aged 16 to 59 years had misused a prescription-only painkiller not prescribed to them
  • Painkiller misuse is more common in younger ages

– 7.2 % of 16 to 24 year olds had misused a prescription-only painkiller in the last year, while 4.9 % of 25 to 59 year olds had done so. 
The decline in misuse with age is less for prescription painkillers than other drugs

– While the misuse of prescription-only painkillers in the last year declined with age (8.0% of 16 to 19 year olds compared with 3.0% of 55 to 59 year olds), the decline was shallower than the decline with age seen for illicit drugs.

  • Painkiller misuse is less likely to be associated with misuse of other drugs

– 25% of the 16 to 59 year olds who had reported misuse of prescription-only painkillers reported having taken another drug in the last year
– More than 83% of  users of new psychoactive substances had used another illicit drug in the last year

  • Association of painkiller misuse with alcohol misuse

– The misuse of prescription painkillers did not vary by frequency of alcohol consumption, with similar levels across all categories (4.6% of those who drank alcohol three or more days a week in the last month reported misuse of prescription painkillers, compared with 5.5% of those who drank alcohol less than once a month)

  • People with a long-standing illness or disability were more likely to have misused prescription-only painkillers and to have used an illicit drug in the last year.

– Among those with a long-standing illness, 8.5 per cent had misused prescription-only painkillers in the last year (compared with 4.8% without an illness) and 11.9 per cent had taken an illicit drug in the last year (compared with 8.1% without an illness).

  • Misuse of prescription painkillers is distributed more evenly across the general population than the use of illicit drugs

– Misuse of painkillers was similar in both rural and urban areas (5.4% of those in urban areas reported misuse of prescription painkillers, compared with 5.3% in rural areas) whereas the use of illicit drugs is higher in urban areas (9.1% of those in urban areas reported use of illicit drugs, compared with 6.5% in rural areas).


Further Reading

  • Lader, D. Drug Misuse: Findings from the 2014/15 Crime Survey for England and Wales. (Second Edition Statistical Bulletin 03/15). 2015.
  • Lader, D. Drug Misuse: Findings from the 2015/16 Crime Survey for England and Wales. (Second Edition Statistical Bulletin 06/16). 2016.