Pubdate: Fri, 13 Mar 2015
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited
Author: Karen McVeigh


Almost One in Ten Adults Admits to Using the Drug Scientists Warn of 
Deadly Potential Side-Effects

Cocaine use, once the preserve of celebrities and the wealthy, has 
spread throughout British society, drug advisers say.

A report by the government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs 
(ACMD) found that although consumption of the drug had fallen 
slightly from a peak in 2008-09, its use has permeated a wide social 
demographic that includes the middle classes and those on lower 
incomes. This has been driven by the emergence of a "two-tier" 
market; one selling very low purity, cheaper cocaine alongside a 
smaller trade in a more expensive, purer version.

It found that almost one in 10 (9.4%) of all 16-to-59-year-olds have 
used cocaine in their lifetime. It is the second most widely used 
illegal drug, the first being cannabis.

The report, initially proposed in 2010, when it was expected to take 
12 months, has been subject to repeated delays as ministers asked 
that other work take priority. The ACMD proposed the report after its 
concerns about the increasing prevalence of cocaine in Britain and 
the perception that the drug is safe.

The UK has been near the top of the European league table for cocaine 
use for decades , according to the European Monitoring Centre for 
Drugs and Drug Addiction.

On Thursday, at a press conference to launch the ACMD report, its 
authors warned that cocaine was linked with serious crime and risky 
behaviour, and that even first-time users could experience 
"potentially severe and life-threatening consequences".

Analysis of cocaine samples found 50 adulterants, or cutting agents, 
including Levamisole - a worming agent withdrawn from use in humans 
owing to side effects, the most serious of which was a depletion of 
white blood cells used to fight infection. Another cutting agent was 
Benzocaine, a local anaesthetic used by dentists, which produces a 
tingling sensation in the nose akin to that produced by cocaine.

Most street-level seizures in 2008-09 were found to be 10% or less 
pure cocaine, according to a home affairs select committee report in 2010.

Professor Les Iversen, chair of the ACMD, said: "Consumption of 
powdered cocaine in the United Kingdom has changed radically over the 
last two decades. Once characterised as the preserve of wealthy 
bankers and celebrities, the research highlighted in this report 
shows a cheaper, low-purity version of the drug has permeated society 
more widely."

Iversen said that the drug's association with celebrities had led to 
misperceptions over its safety. "The association of cocaine with 
celebrity culture is one of the reasons that some people think, 
misguidedly, this is a safe drug - because that person has taken it. 
This is not doing a service to understanding of the realities of the drug.

"Given the clear health risks associated with even infrequent cocaine 
use and associated issues such as dependency and crime, this 
development has posed a huge challenge to health professionals, law 
enforcement, educators and academics."

Iversen stressed that most people report infrequent use, with 60% of 
users reporting they have taken it "once or twice". But the drug 
remains a "Class A dangerous drug" which could cause cardiovascular 
problems and temporary psychotic symptoms, he said.

The research found that 23% of 18-to-30-year-olds with chest pains 
admitted to accident and emergency departments at two London 
hospitals in 2010 tested positive for cocaine.

It also found cocaine use to be linked to 300 organised crime groups 
in London alone. Of this group, some 60 are involved in importing the 
drug, it said.

According to the Crime Survey of England and Wales, 0.6% of 
16-to-59-year-olds took cocaine in 1996, compared to a peak of 3%, or 
885,000 people, in 2008-09.

Between 2001 and 2002, the biggest rise in cocaine use was seen in 
households classed as "hard-pressed", such as low-income families and 
those living in inner city estates and high-rises, it found.

During 2013-14, an estimated 2.4% of individuals in England and Wales 
aged 16 to 59 had used cocaine powder in the past year, according to 
Home Office statistics.

In recent years, there has been a significant uptick in consumption 
in certain groups. These include the "comfortably off ", such as 
young couples, secure families and older couples in the suburbs, and 
those of "moderate means", including manual workers, it said.

There has also been a steady increase in use over the past two 
decades among 45-to-54-year-olds.

The research, which for the first time focused on solely powdered 
cocaine, found that consumption of the drug was associated with 
alcohol use - "a cocktail that carries its own risks" said Tim 
Millar, co-chair of the ACMD working group.

Any recording of drug-related deaths does not distinguish between 
powdered or crack cocaine. Cocaine was involved in, but not 
necessarily the cause of, 234 deaths in Scotland, England and Wales 
in 2013, the report said.
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