From the Independant On Line
5 March 2006
Tumbling prices and the lack of stigma attached to the drug have led to soaring use at every level of society
Cocaine is replacing ecstasy as the drug of choice on the club scene for the first time, with record numbers of young people snorting the powder for as little as £30 a gram.
Now widely affordable, cocaine has soared in popularity among the Ibiza set with more than three-quarters saying they have taken the drug, compared with only half last year. In contrast, there has only been a small percentage rise in the number of users of ecstasy, which once dominated the club scene.
The cost of cocaine has nearly halved over the past decade, which has also given rise to an alarming trend in bingeing on the drug. Nearly one in 10 people in their twenties who go to clubs admit to taking two grams in a session - the equivalent of 40 lines.
These figures are based on a survey of more than 2,000 regular club-goers across the country, ranging from students to civil servants, carried out by the magazine Mixmag, seen as the clubbers' Bible.
They demonstrate that the drug is no longer used just by overpaid footballers and celebrities, but now touches every section of UK society. An investigation by The Independent on Sunday has found that dealers are openly selling it almost anywhere in London, from pubs to restaurant toilets.
London is now the cocaine capital of the world, according to experts. A UN report revealed last week that one in 50 people have used cocaine in Britain - a higher figure than anywhere else in the world, including countries such as the US.
There is huge concern among ministers and teachers about teenagers becoming hooked on the drug. In one case, four teenage girls were expelled from a school in West Sussex for snorting the drug in the toilets before lessons. Police gave two a warning after being alerted by staff at Holy Trinity School in Gossops Green, Crawley.
In response to the explosion in cocaine use, Scotland Yard has taken the unprecedented step of using undercover officers to pose as drug suppliers in a bid to target recreational users.
Clubs, keen to avoid getting labelled as magnets for drug users, have introduced special amnesty bins in a bid to encourage people to hand over their drugs, without fear of police action, before a night out.
Nick Stevenson from Mixmag said that the fact cocaine was almost half the price it was nearly a decade ago was a major factor in its popularity among people, law-abiding in every other aspect of their lives.
"This not some dirty subculture. Our readers are everyone who likes music, from students to civil servants," he said.
"There is no longer the stigma there might have been with the drug and the price means it's not just the preserve of rock stars."
Drugs education charities are warning that urgent action is needed so that recreational users are made aware of the dangers. Cocaine is a class A drug that can cause anxiety, a rise in blood pressure and heart problems, as well as long-term addiction.
Tony D'Agostino, from the group Conference on Crack and Cocaine (Coca), said one alarming trend was for people to convert cocaine into crack using baking powder, a process known as "washing up". "Cocaine is now literally everywhere and more needs to be done so that users can get support," he said.
The Mixmag survey, regarded as a reliable indicator of drug trends by police and lawyers, also found that ketamine and Viagra were increasing in popularity. More than a third of young people said they had used ketamine in the past month and nearly a quarter had used Viagra as a stimulant.
750,000 PEOPLE IN the United Kingdom are estimated to use cocaine annually, according to Home Office figures.
£30 IS THE average price for a gram of cocaine on the street. That's down £30 in five years, according to a survey by dance music magazine Mixmag.
100 PEOPLE DIE in Britain every year as a direct result of cocaine use.
£200bn IS THE estimated annual value of the world market for cocaine.
25% OF HEART attacks among those aged between 18 and 45 in the UK are attributed to the use of cocaine.
20,000 TONS OF cocaine were seized by UK Customs officers during 2004.
20 LINES of cocaine are what users will "chop" from each gram. A third of users will go through a gram in one session, according to the Mixmag survey.
Let's all go to London