Pubdate: February 7 1999
Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Copyright: 1999 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Author: Mark Macaskill and Cherry Norton

Pensioners have become the latest target for drug pushers. Government
figures and surveys by anti-drugs groups show that increasing numbers
are becoming dependent on the highly addictive drug crack cocaine.

Drug centres have reported a surge in older people using crack to
combat the pressures of old age, bereavement, illness, loneliness and
depression. Many say the drug makes them feel young again.

The reports are backed by government figures which show that the
number of known hard drug addicts aged over 50 has almost doubled in
eight years, to 339 people in 1997.

Such figures are believed to represent a tiny fraction of those
actually using such drugs.

"The crack problem we see now is the tip of the iceberg. Drugs do not
just affect young people. We have treated people as old as 74," said
Helen Bartolini, an outreach worker with the 493 project in London.

Crack cocaine first appeared in Britain during the mid-1980s. It comes
in the form of a small "rock" which is placed in a pipe and smoked.
Its potency comes from its ability to deliver high doses to the brain
very quickly.

At the 493 project, workers are trying to help old people who are
turning to drugs for the first time in their lives. "One elderly woman
began taking crack after her husband left her and her granddaughter
died. She had never taken drugs before," Bartolini said.

Elderly people who become addicted to drugs are more likely than
younger people to suffer complications with their health. It can also
wreak havoc with their finances as pensioners are likely to be on
small fixed incomes.

George, a 66-year-old addict who lives on an estate in the Eccles area
of Manchester, was first introduced to drugs five years ago by a
friend. He quickly became addicted and smokes 10 rocks a day when he
can afford it, with each rock costing up to UKP25. As George's pension
is not enough to fuel his habit, he scours dumps and skips for scrap
and has even pulled up disused railway lines to raise money.

According to George, who also suffers from arthritis, the benefits are
worth the money. "I know it's killing me, but I don't care," he said.
"When I smoke crack, all my aches and pains go and I feel on top of
the world. I don't have any family so I don't have to worry about
anybody else."

Doctors warn that such elderly users are at high risk of "crack lung",
caused by fluid in the lungs. High blood pressure and chest pains can
also be a lethal complication for older people. "It is particularly
dangerous for the elderly to take crack because it also affects the
heart, brain and blood vessels - it could be the last straw for
someone with coronary heart disease, " said John Henry, professor of
accident and emergency medicine at St Mary's hospital, London.

"The elderly people who take hard drugs such as heroin and crack
cocaine are still a minority group but I expect this to change in the
future. People who took drugs in the 1960s and have carried on with
the habit will undoubtedly continue to do so into their later years."

Fred, a 60-year-old crack dealer in the north of England, has been a
regular user of almost every drug since the 1960s when he first
experimented with cannabis. He recently progressed to crack and
started dealing to fuel his habit and earn a regular income. "The high
lasts for quite a while and you feel very alert and energetic," he

"It is becoming popular with older people because it's the strongest
and easiest drug to use."

Additional reporting: Justin Rigby
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