Cocaine has gone from a drug for the rich to a drug for the masses. A report by the government’s advisory council on the misuse of drugs (ACMD), found that cocaine has become the second most popular drug in the UK after cannabis.
The rise in popularity of cocaine can be traced to several factors including its celebrity status, its falling price and its wide availability.
In the 80s and 90s cocaine in the UK was expensive and had high levels of purity. Now though there are two very different cocaine marketplaces. The UK still has a small amount of very expensive and pure cocaine but there is a much larger market for lower purity and cheaper cocaine. This helps explain why one in every 9.4 people in the UK between the ages of 16 and 59 have tried cocaine.
Those most likely to use the newer low purity cocaine are people in their early twenties. 5.5% admit to using cocaine in the last year. Researchers at the ACMD believe that these young adults may be using cocaine because they see it as a safe drug. This perception of safety may come from the fact that so many celebrities have admitted to using the drug.
The perceived safety of cocaine has Prof Les Iversen, chair of the ACMD worried. He said, “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.”
Some of the health problems Iversen is talking about include an increased risk of heart attacks, increased risk of stroke, chest pain and a number of psychotic symptoms.
While a many people have tried cocaine despite the risks, the report does note that most people who have tried cocaine (60%) say they only use the drug only once or twice. While this lowers the risk for certain health problems caused by cocaine, it is still very dangerous.
23% of the people between 18 and 30 admitted to London hospitals in 2010 with chest pain tested positive for cocaine. More importantly, low purity cocaine comes with a whole host of potential problems. The worst of these is adulterants in the cocaine. Cocaine is cut or mixed with other substances. This ensures that the cocaine is not too pure and provides more products for dealers to sell. Unfortunately, many people cut cocaine using drugs or other dangerous substances. An analysis found 50 different substances used to cut drugs ceased by police. These included Levamisole which is used for deworming animals and can harm white blood cells and enzocaine which is a local anaesthetic used by dentists.
With the purity of street level cocaine averaging 10% pure cocaine, the number of potentially dangerous substances which could be mixed with the drug is staggering.