Pubdate: Sun, 29 Dec 2002
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: 2002 The Observer
Author: Tony Thompson


Ecstasy Is Being Replaced As Drug Of Choice For Middle-Class Clubbers

Henry used to be the best pimp in the country. Until recently he had 
thousands of women under his direct control and wielded such absolute power 
that a wide range of subjects, from the prepubescent teenagers to 
middle-aged mothers, considered him the most important thing in their lives.

But today increasing numbers of Britain's prostitutes are working for a new 
master: Henry, the street name for heroin, has been surpassed in the 
pimping stakes by crack cocaine.

The explosion of the use of crack cocaine among the sex industry is part of 
an overall growth in the use of the drug, which has risen by more than 200 
per cent over the past three years. Drug workers say the first signs of a 
national epidemic, as predicted by US drug workers nearly 15 years ago, are 
now emerging.

Increasingly, young people see selling crack as an attractive career option 
and a shortcut to fame and fortune, an image strongly reinforced by lyrics 
and videos of the hip hop and garage music scene. Last week Shane Neil, a 
member of the controversial garage band So Solid Crew, was charged with 
dealing crack cocaine and possessing a gun. He is the third member of the 
south London-based musical collective to face trial for firearms offences 
in the past 18 months.

Michael Andrews, a former crack dealer in Bristol, told The Observer: 'You 
leave school and you have the choice of working in a restaurant for lots of 
hours, little money and no respect, or you can take a chance, sell crack 
for a couple of hours a day and then be driving around in a BMW, wearing 
nice clothes. There is no competition.'

According to a new Home Office report, Tackling Crack, published last week, 
much of this growth in the use of crack is being 'hidden' by misconceptions 
about the effect the drug has on those who use it. While normally 
associated with violence and the black community, the vast majority of 
crack users are in fact white. Most users manage to avoid the paranoid and 
psychotic behaviour attributed to the drug.

According to the report: 'A crack user may use with little immediate impact 
on their behaviour, especially when they use crack alongside other drugs. 
Most crack users do use crack alongside heroin. However, as their use 
increases or crack becomes the predominant drug, their dependency and need 
for the drug may become more chaotic and desperate.

'Neither violence nor mental illness with be present for many users with 
greater control, particularly those who use crack in addition to their main 
use of heroin.'

The sex trade is a major consumer of crack and is thought to be at least 
partly responsible for its growth. The report says many pimps are involved 
in selling crack and, unlike heroin, crack offers no obvious evidence of 
use or other signs that might put off the clients of a drug-using 
prostitute. Crack also reduces inhibitions and acts as a stimulant, 
allowing sex workers to operate for longer hours. The two industries 
increasingly operate hand in hand, with many prostitutes purchasing drugs 
on behalf of their clients and sharing them.

Last week Lambeth council in London decided that the father of shoe-bomber 
Richard Reid should be expelled from his council flat in Streatham after it 
was found the property was being used as a crack house and brothel.

The drug is also becoming more common among clubbers. According to leading 
drug charity DrugScope, more young people are being pushed into 
experimenting with crack because there are so many fears over the effects 
of ecstasy use. 'There is growing evidence that clubbers are under the 
mistaken belief that cocaine is a safer option,' said a spokesman for the 
charity. 'Because they haven't seen scare stories about cocaine or crack, 
they believe that it is a better option than ecstasy.'

This research is supported by recent studies in Scotland which show crack 
cocaine is the drug of choice for middle-class clubbing teenagers.

Deputy Chief Constable of Lothian and Borders Police, Tom Wood, told The 
Observer: 'Crack cocaine is an emerging threat. There has been a 200 per 
cent increase in the use of the drug, which is appearing in more clubs and 
around the dance scene with some young people turning to it instead of 
ecstasy.' Its growth has been orchestrated by dealers who offer smaller 
'clubbing rocks' and tell customers they have run out of cocaine powder.

The spread of crack in Scotland is orchestrated by the same Jamaican 
gangsters who introduced the drug to London and other major cities. Last 
week 25-year-old Jamaican national Richard Vassell was jailed for three and 
a half years in Edinburgh after being caught selling large quantities of 
crack. In the past year Jamaican dealers have been caught and prosecuted in 
Aberdeen and Glasgow, despite both cities having very small numbers of 
black residents.

Police believe they have moved further afield because the market in many 
cities is becoming saturated. There is also evidence of use of the drug 
among the Asian community. Last week 19-year-old Deep Chimber, 'star' 
salesman with Bedford's biggest drugs gang, was sentenced to three and a 
half years. He dealt vast quantities of heroin, but spent all his profits 
on his own crack habit.

Ministers are working with education chiefs to come up with classroom-based 
ways of tackling the problem and educating children about the drug's 
dangers. A Home Office spokesman said: 'It will be down to schools exactly 
how they deliver but clearly crack is a dangerous drug and we want to see 
how we can educate children in the most effective way.'

The Metropolitan Police is also intending to increase the number of 
firearms officers, adding 50 to 200 deployed earlier, a response to a 23 
per cent increase in the number of guns seized by officers last year.

But Danny Kushlink of the pressure group Transform is sceptical. 'It is 
highly unlikely there will be significant success in reducing imports or 
street availability, and treatment will work only for those who wish to 
partake of it. I think it is crucial not to get caught up in demonising 
crack and to treat the crime associated with it as a policy issue rather 
than as being in the nature of the drug itself.'
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