Changing world patterns of narcotics smuggling are propelling Britain into the front line of drug-abusing countries. The Home Office has announced a 17 percent rise in drug addiction over the past year and warns that if hard drugs, especially heroin,continue to be cheaper and easier to get, the problem will deepen.
The threat has sharpened, according to officials, largely because the center of hard-drug production has moved from the drought-stricken Asian "golden triangle" of Burma, Thailand, and Laos, to Middle East counterparts Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
Political unrest in and around the latter countries has hampered official attempts to curb the cultivation of opium poppies.
Home Office officials say much of the heroin entering Britain is being imported by Iranians who have left their country and begun organizing marketing chains in West European countries. While in the United States heroin addiction has been falling, it is increasing dramatically in Europe.
Drug-abuse figures in West Germany are more serious than those in Britian, but the picture painted by the Home Office is disturbing all the same.
Heroin's price on the streets has been halved in the last three years. The drug is becoming freely available outside London.
There were large police seizures of heroin, opium, cocaine, and marijuana last year, but officials believe these represent only a small proportion of the drugs entering Britain.
Drug counselors estimate that there are about 10,000 heroin addicts in Britain and a similar number of users who are not yet addicted. There is a steady increase in drug abuse among women. Five years ago one-quarter of registered addicts were remale. Now women account for nearly one-third of the total.
Counselors are expressing concern both at the upward trend of drug abuse and at financial pressures hampering programs to help and rehabilitate users. Most programs are financed by local authorities, but they are being asked by the central government to limit cash outlays in all areas of activity.
Drug-abuse centers have taken their share of the cuts, and some are finding it impossible to afford new staff when counselors leave.