Londoners have used drugs for thousands of years, both for health and for pleasure. During the 20th century, the use and possession of drugs became increasingly controlled by the state as misuse of drugs became increasingly associated with ill health and crime.

Until the middle of the century, drug use was disapproved of but not considered a serious social problem. It was associated with bohemian behaviour and foreign cultures: opium and cocaine were particularly associated with the Chinese. Misuse of drugs emerged as a major health hazard in the 1970s when organised criminals began to take over the supply chains. Between 1980 and 1997 the number of specialist agencies dealing with drugs issues in London increased from 14 to 150.

By the end of the 20th century, London had 12% of the United Kingdom's population but 21% of Britain's drugs users, mostly in inner London. It was estimated that there were 40,000-80,000 problem drug users in London, and drug crime was costing London as much as 1.6 billion a year.

A London drugs timeline

* 1908 The Poisons and Pharmacy Act adds new controls the on sale of 'poisons'. The police are made responsible for enforcing some of the regulations.

* 1909 A London Country Council bylaw gives the council powers to suspend or revoke the licenses of lodging-house keepers who allow opium-smoking on their premises.

* 1916 The Defence of the Realm Act includes new licensing laws to restrict pub opening hours and add further controls on the unauthorised possession of opium and cocaine.

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