Pubdate: Sun, 17 Feb 2002
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: 2002 The Observer
Author: Tony Thompson


Drug's Use Spreads Across Class Lines To Nightclubs And The City

The use of crack cocaine is soaring to epidemic levels, particularly among 
14- to 18-year-olds, fuelling the recent dramatic rise in violent street 
crime and driving the price down to a record low. Abuse of the drug has 
become so widespread that specialist police units targeting muggers, 
carjackers and petty criminals are now arresting more crack addicts than 
heroin users. The problem is most acute in London, but Birmingham, 
Manchester, Northampton and Bristol have also recorded large increases in 
the numbers of users. There is also evidence that the drug is spreading out 
from its traditional user base, with addicts just as likely to be Asian or 
white or middle-class as they are to be black or working-class.

According to Adam Frankland, of the leading drug charity Turning Point, the 
growth in crack cocaine use shows no sign of slowing. 'This is a major 
concern for us. We are seeing increasing numbers of the young crack users 
and the trend seems to be spiralling. The price used to be UKP20 for 0.2 of 
a gram, but now that same amount of money buys 0.4 of a gram, so the price 
has effectively halved. We hear anecdotal evidence from housing estates 
around London where you can buy a quarter ounce of cocaine for UKP200. That 
equates to just UKP30 per gram, which is an all-time low.

'A decade ago Robert Stutman of the American Drug Enforcement 
Administration came to Britain and made dire warnings that it was on the 
verge of a major crack problem. What we are seeing now are the first signs 
that the epidemic is on its way.' Across London, the number of addicts 
seeking help with crack-based addictions has climbed by nearly 50 per cent 
in the past year.

Experts say the shift in patterns of drug use has directly affected the 
type of crimes being committed at street level. Heroin addicts, previously 
identified as being responsible for the vast majority of property-related 
crime, traditionally fund their habits through activities such as burglary, 
breaking into parked cars, shoplifting and credit card fraud. Crack, 
however, leaves heavy users edgy, paranoid and dangerously desperate. 
Because of this they are more likely to get involved in violent, 
opportunist crimes such as mugging, mobile phone theft and carjacking.

The huge demand is being catered for by dozens of crack houses, some of 
them in upmarket areas. Last year John Stevens, Commissioner of the 
Metropolitan Police, attended a much-publicised raid on a crack house in 
Notting Hill. Despite a number of arrests being made, the building was back 
in operation within 12 hours.

Superintendent Derek Benson, the man in charge of police operations in the 
north London borough of Haringey, acknowledges that the criminal 
organisations behind the distribution and sale of crack cocaine are doing 
their best to expand their operations. 'Crack is a big problem for us and 
we have shut down a number of crack houses in the area. There is definitely 
a link between drug use, drug supply and other forms of criminal activity. 
This is not disorganised crime - these people are organised enough to sell 
drugs. They have a hierarchy and control through fear and violence.'

The trade in the drug also generates its own violence, with victims of 
vicious assaults increasingly citing 'crack debts' as the reason they were 

One Hackney-based detective told The Observer : 'Owing UKP200 to your crack 
dealer is enough to get you beaten up. And it doesn't take much more of a 
debt for someone to be shot.'

Of greatest concern to police and drug agencies is the evidence that 
dealers are helping to push the drug into new markets, particularly among 
clubbers and middle-class users, by marketing it in a more upmarket 
fashion. As a result, crack is now the drug of choice for many clubbers. 
Its growth has been orchestrated by dealers who offer smaller 'clubbing 
rocks' and also tell customers that they have run out of cocaine powder.

The drug is also making an appearance in the City. 'We have reports of City 
workers who use the drug,' says Frankland. 'One of the effects of crack is 
to increase the amount of adrenaline in the body and we find that, with 
this kind of user, a huge part of the buzz is linked to going out and 
getting it.'

Last month Turning Point opened a residential care centre for crack addicts 
in Hackney, east London, which is one of the worst-affected areas in the 
capital, but treatment is difficult. Whereas heroin addicts can be given 
the legal substitute methadone, crack addicts have to make do with a range 
of complementary therapies aimed at breaking the cycle of addiction.

Last week a Home Office document revealed that Britain's burgeoning drugs 
culture is costing the country as much as UKP18.8 billion a year - far 
higher than previously thought. Users of class A substances such as heroin 
and crack cocaine cost society about UKP11,000 each a year, making up about 
99 per cent of the costs.
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