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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 October 2005, 06:59 GMT 07:59 UK
'Crack takes over your life'
By Michelle Roberts
BBC News website health reporter

Britain's drug treatment services are still largely focused on heroin addiction, despite recent studies finding there are now more users of crack than heroin. But the situation is improving, says one former user.

Man smoking crack pipe (picture posed by model)
Crack users can spend hundreds of pounds a week on the habit
Pete has been clean of his crack cocaine habit for 12 weeks.

This time, the 51-year-old Londoner believes he will not go back on the drug, which has plagued his life for the past eight years.

He says what has helped the most is having tailored support from specialists experienced in working with people who use crack cocaine.

And he knows from bitter experience how hard it can be to beat crack without this help.

"It's a totally selfish drug this crack. It takes over your life."

Pete said he first started using cocaine when his marriage broke down eight years ago.

Initially he was snorting the powdered form of the drug, but after a year he moved on to smoking crack cocaine.

Part of the problem was how widely available the drug was, Pete recalls.

"There were dealers everywhere, in pubs and clubs and even the social security office.

"It was on every corner. You could get it by word of mouth."

Tough habit to beat

Another big factor was the drug's addictiveness.

Pete said he had misused other drugs in the past, including LSD, ecstasy and heroin, but he found crack particularly hard to come off.

When you can't find the help you feel totally on your own and extremely isolated
"Crack grabs a hold quickly. It doesn't take long at all.

"The cravings it produces are massive. And you end up using it more frequently because the high is short-lasting," he said.

When Pete first tried to come off crack in the 1990s he had real difficulty finding help.

"Initially, there were no services in place to deal with crack addiction.

"When you can't find the help you feel totally on your own and extremely isolated."

Opiates focus

He says the existing services at that time were geared towards heroin and opiates.

Rocks of crack cocaine

"But now there is far more focus on crack cocaine as a specific problem," he says.

"Having this support is what helps. Without them you are on your own."

He says he valued being able to talk with people who understood what it was like to be addicted to cocaine.

"It's not just about developing coping mechanisms to deal with the physical and mental problems that go with addiction.

"It's also about getting help with social things. It's addressing all the other issues that have piled up - you have not paid your rent or your bills."

Pete now works as a social worker in the drugs field helping others with similar addictions.


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