'Junk food' illegal drug market hits the streets

By chillinwill · Sep 24, 2009 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    The illegal drug market is starting to mirror a "junk food" economy with a menu of increasingly low quality, cheap and readily available products being sold to an ever less discerning group of customers, according to the latest survey of street trends.

    The 2009 annual Druglink magazine survey shows that the purity of drugs including powder cocaine, ecstasy, speed, cannabis, and heroin have severely dropped in most areas in the past year.

    The findings, based on feedback from 70 frontline drugs services, police units, drug action teams and user groups in 20 towns and cities, also show there has been a rise in people using a much wider variety of drugs.

    "The wider variety of drugs people are taking on a night out, the less worried they are likely to be about the quality of each individual substance," said Max Daly of Druglink.

    "In turn, poor quality drugs, such as ecstasy pills, can mean users start to 'top up' or experiment with alternative highs such as GHB or ketamine."

    The survey found a fall in the reported quality of powder cocaine and crack cocaine in 17 out the 20 areas, although prices have held steady with a gram of cocaine ranging from £25 to £50.

    Bristol police said bags of cocaine sold on the street contained as little as 2% of the real thing. A drugs squad detective in Strathclyde described the drug as having been "adulterated into oblivion" by the time it reached Glasgow. In Manchester "bitesize" wraps of cocaine were being sold for £10.

    This fall in the quality of street cocaine has been matched in the purity of heroin, ecstasy pills and amphetamines. In some cases a "two-tier" market is evident with higher quality drugs sold at much higher prices. This is now extending to prescription tranquillisers such as Diazepam. Authentic 10mg pills are being sold for £1 while fake, low quality, versions from Chinese and south-east Asian labs sell for half the price.

    The survey also shows that this drop in quality is leading older teenagers and younger adult recreational users to swap or combine illicit substances with cheap high-strength alcohol.

    One Suffolk drug squad officer reported: "A few years ago crack was being sold in Ipswich at 60% purity, now it is 20%. Lots of people are coming off crack because it is such low quality and taking valium or alcohol instead."

    The findings also show an increasing interest in alternative substances such as ketamine, a hallucinogenic anaethestic, which is now much more widely used, and "legal highs" such as GBL – which imitates the effects of ecstasy. Ketamine is reported to have become the "main stimulant drug" for teenagers in Birmingham.

    Drug workers also report a drop in street corner-style dealing with more networks operating by mobile phone appointments.

    In London the police say there is evidence that social networking sites have been used for selling illicit drugs. In the centre more aggressive sales techniques are being used including handing out slips of paper with mobile phone numbers and conducting business outside addiction clinics.

    Drug treatment services in nearly every area said police enforcement operations were initially successful but markets often returned to normal within a month.

    Strong and cheap alcohol looms large with many areas reporting an increase among both young and class A drug users. In Manchester and Portsmouth teenagers reportedly indulge in heavy drinking sessions in parks, drinking cheap vodka and strong supermarket lager.

    Overall the 2009 survey found street prices were relatively stable compared with 2008, with minor falls in the average price of cocaine down from £42 a gram to £39 a gram and ecstasy – MDMA powder – down from £39 a gram to £36 a gram this year.

    Martin Barnes, the chief executive of DrugScope, the drugs information charity, said that while the overall levels of drug use had remained stable in recent years the range of substances appearing on the radar appeared to be increasing.

    He said: "The shifting patterns are a reminder of the challenges faced by drug services and police forces."

    By Alan Travis
    September 11, 2009
    The Guardian

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  1. chillinwill
    A decline in the quality of drugs is encouraging takers to use a wider range of substances, a report suggests.

    But the study from UK information charity DrugScope warns treatment services may not have the capacity to help so-called "poly-drug" users.

    The information was compiled from data provided by 70 UK drug services, police forces and drug action teams.

    It confirms findings of a drop in the purity of cocaine but also suggests the quality of other drugs has fallen.

    Varied menu

    With drug prices stable or in decline, the 2009 edition of DrugScope's annual Street Drug Trends Survey says this may be accelerating a longer-term trend of people taking a variety of substances together or separately.

    Researchers say that because there is a more varied menu of drugs, users are less bothered about individual quality.

    It said the quality of heroin, ecstasy and illicit tranquilisers, was significantly lower.

    The report raises concerns that drug treatment services may not have the capacity to help poly-drug users - in particular those who use drugs which have only recently emerged, such as Ketamine and GHB.

    In 17 out of 20 areas studied by researchers, a drop was recorded in the quality of cocaine powder and crack.

    In Bristol, police reported seizing cocaine powder with purity levels as low as 2% and a Suffolk drug squad officer told the survey that the purity of crack in Ipswich had dropped from 60% to 20% within the space of a few years.

    Some 12 out of the 20 areas reported a decline in heroin quality, while a majority also recorded a fall in the MDMA content in ecstasy pills.

    Mr Barnes said there had been a long-term trend towards users combining a range of drugs, but suggested that the low-quality substances "dominating" the market may have accelerated this process.

    He added: "While overall levels of drug use have remained relatively stable in recent years, the range of substances appearing on the radar of drug services and enforcement agencies appears to be increasing.

    "The fact that older teens and young adults are increasingly combining substances including ketamine, cocaine, cannabis and cheap high-strength alcohol is particularly concerning."

    In Ipswich and Middlesbrough, researchers found that crack users were turning to alcohol and black market pharmaceuticals, whereas in Newcastle some were buying powder cocaine instead because it was cheaper.

    The report also warned that an increasingly "junk food" drug market was leading users to turn to less well-researched alternatives.

    In 18 of the 20 areas covered by the survey, ketamine was reported as being used by a growing number of young people.

    And for the first time in the survey's five-year history, some drug services expressed concerns about the use of the so-called "legal highs" such as GBL and mephedrone.

    Gary Sutton, head of drug services at the charity Release, said purity levels reflected the state of the drugs economy.

    "Dealers are getting more greedy, or, to put it more accurately, increasing the risk premium," he said.

    "There seems to be a longer chain from importer to the street and users, especially cocaine buyers, seem happy to buy lower grade substances.

    "Most heroin users will complain about their gear, but most will buy it anyway."

    September 11, 2009
    BBC News
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