Cocaine now cheaper than a cappuccino
Mark Townsend and Vanessa Thorpe
Sunday January 9, 2005
The failure of the government's policy to stem drug imports is revealed today by research which shows that Britain is awash with cheap drugs, with a line of cocaine now costing less than a cappuccino.
The price of ecstasy, heroin, crack, cocaine and cannabis has tumbled to a record low in the last year, as dealers pumped ever greater quantities onto the market, encouraging hundreds of thousands of people to become regular users.
The failure by customs and police to smash trafficking gangs and cut off supplies to the streets is an embarrassment for Tony Blair.
He recently announced longer sentences for dealers and stronger powers for the courts, the latest in a string of attempts to control the burgeoning trade.
Yet despite such efforts, the price of ecstasy has plummeted by 70 per cent over the last decade to £3.50 a pill, according to figures compiled by the Independent Drugs Monitoring Unit.
In certain areas, users - some of whom have become so hardened to the chemicals that they take up to 20 tablets a night - are being offered the drug for just £2.
During last year the cost of a rock of crack fell by more than a fifth to £10, its largest annual fall since the drug reached Britain during the Eighties. Rocks, each about the size of a white, waxy pea, are effectively cocaine in smokeable form and typically give users one or two hits.
The statistics reveal the changing profile of drug- taking in Britain. Typical of the new breed of users are those who split a gram of cocaine with friends most weekends while experts also warn of clubbers who are increasingly spurning ecstasy in favour of crack.
The monitoring unit is the UK's leading authority on the street value of narcotics and their consumption. It surveyed 2,056 people at music festivals and gigs last year, with the results for 2004 collated in recent days.
Researchers found there were regional disparities in the cost of drugs. Cocaine, for example, is dearest in East Anglia, at £47 a gram, and cheapest in the north-east, at £39. Increasingly, users are paying under £40. Users can eke out up to 20 lines - each one giving a feeling of self-confidence and alertness for around 20 minutes - from one gram. This equates to about £2.25 a line, cheaper than a cappuccino in many cafes. Addicts, however, often split a gram into just five lines.
'Traditionally we have a much higher rate of drug use than other countries. We are starting at a higher rate and that has gone up even more,' said Matthew Atha, who compiled the report. 'The industry appears to be booming, although there are signs it may be bottoming out.'
For example, the price of an eighth of resin, enough to make around 20 joints of the brown-coloured, often low-grade cannabis, fell only marginally last year, yet is almost 50 per cent cheaper than 1995. The price of heroin has fallen considerably, and it is more than a third lower than in the mid-Nineties.
However, Atha said that an unusually cheap batch of the opiate last year - selling at just £12 a gram - may have skewed the figure downwards. His report attempted to quantify the number of regular drug users in the UK, those who take illicit substances at least once a month. Cannabis remains most widely used, with almost 600,000 frequent users feeding a market worth £978m. Half of the supply is now grown in the UK.
Cocaine remains the second most popular drug. It has 237,000 frequent users, slightly fewer than the number of crack and heroin addicts combined. Ecstasy has just over 76,000 regular users, considerably fewer than suspected. One theory behind ecstasy's rapidly dwindling street value is that dealers have been trying to reinvigorate demand as the drug fades from fashion. However, when the numbers of people who took an illegal substance during 2004 are examined, the totals soar to more than 400,000 for ecstasy, 2.3 million for cannabis and 580,000 for cocaine.
Despite the falling costs, the amount spent by UK users remains sizeable. For instance, in an 'average month' a regular cocaine user will spend almost £170 on the drug. Crack and heroin addicts part with more than £440.
The unit's report was compiled for this week's BBC2 programme If Drugs Were Legal , which will examine the arguments for legalising and regulating the trade.
Factoring in the cost of a regulatory agency to oversee the trade, the Treasury could expect to make up to £6.4 billion by taxing illicit drugs, the programme finds.
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