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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 June 2006, 23:27 GMT 00:27 UK
South Asians 'using drugs more'
By Julia Rooke
Reporter, Sunday's Five Live Report

Drug use among England's South Asian population has been growing at a faster rate than in the white population over the past five years, according to the government's adviser on mental health and ethnicity, Professor Kamlesh Patel.

Detail of mosque
Campaigners are drawing on Islam to persuade dealers to give up

He says drug use started off at a much lower base. Now it is equal to and could be even proportionately higher in some inner city areas than the white population.

Professor Patel has produced the first ever government-funded survey of drug use among ethnic minorities using local community groups rather than trained researchers.

The community-led research project cost 5 million. It reflects the views and experiences of over 200 ethnic minority community groups across England with regards to drug habits.

This particular report presents findings from Asian communities on drug use and includes recommendations for care and prevention.

The BBC has been shown a copy of the unpublished report, which concentrates on drug use among Pakistani, Bengali and Indian groups.

It shows that crack cocaine use has doubled over three years. The authors say there is still a great deal of ignorance about the potential dangers of substance abuse.

Professor Patel says drug use has increased considerably in parts of London because of the increase in the number of South Asians living there. He says the rise can be linked to the growth in the numbers of young people under the age of 25.

"There's no question about it that the Pakistani communities dominate the heroin market in the north of England. In London, in Tower Hamlets, it is the Bangladeshis who dominate the market. Then you have the Turkish gangs as well".

Crack cocaine
Crack cocaine use is up markedly in South Asian communities

The extent of the problem has only become apparent over the past five years, say Professor Patel.

"If we look back to the Eighties people, said: 'Asians don't use drugs'.

"But all the research we've done over 12 years shows that's not the case. The case is that drug services are not appropriate to the needs of those young people."

The new report highlights poor awareness of local drug services. According to Professor Patel there has long been a perception in the Asian communities that drugs services are meant for white users.

The upsurge in drug use can be seen in northern cities like Rochdale, where drug dealing in some areas goes on openly in the streets.

Islamic inspiration

Despairing of what they perceive as police inaction and the lack of effective drugs services, a group of local Pakistani professionals decided to patrol the streets at night to confront the drug dealers earlier this year.

Members of a group calling itself 'United Against Drugs' live locally and many of them know who the local dealers are because they went to school together.

What distinguishes these campaigners from others is that their main inspiration is Islam. Their aim is to persuade dealers and users to give up their habit and respect their religion.

At first they had ambitious plans to 'name and shame' the dealers publicly at the mosque and to visit their parents. They received death threats and backed down following pressure from local elders and police.

If you try to have a serious conversation they try to give you abuse back. Most of them take you for a joke
Abdullah, anti-drug campaigner

"We are announcing to every drug pusher that we are making you redundant. You're going to find another job and if you don't we're going to come on a head-to-head collision with you", warns Sidi Umar, a 23-year-old Muslim cleric and one of the campaign's leaders.

They have been patrolling the streets undeterred. Dealers have learned to cope with the intrusion by mocking the group and by pretending to support them.

"If you try to have a serious conversation they try to give you abuse back. Most of them take you for a joke," says Abdullah, a 30-year-old taxi driver and former drug user.

'Respect for religion'

Police say drug dealers use mobile phones like a take-away delivery service. Dealers use boys as young as 12 as runners to deliver drugs. They often bribe them with new pushbikes.

Mr Umar is the moral authority behind the campaign. He says he sees many local drug dealers praying at the mosque.

Islam forbids the use of drugs, but he says they don't know that because they have a superficial understanding of Islam.

He says explaining Islam to the dealers will encourage them to kick the habit: "They are drug dealers but one thing they have is respect for religious people".

Mr Umar believes the next step for the campaigners is to get local mosques on board their campaign to preach the dangers of drugs in the traditional Friday sermon.

Alienation fear

He says the tradition of preaching in Urdu is damaging to the young because most of them have only a rudimentary understanding of the language.

One imam, Muhammed Siddiq at Rochdale's Al-Furqan mosque, says he is not aware of drug dealers or users coming to the mosque. The mosque owner, Mohammed Iqbal, fears that by introducing English to his mosque he would alienate the older generation.

"The elders are going to revolt. They're going to say to you 'we're being kicked out'", he says.

The University of Central Lancashire report also highlights the importance of getting mosques and community centres involved in drugs education.

Julia Rooke's report, Islam's Battle With Drugs, can be heard on Five Live Report on Sunday 18 June at 1100 BST and 1930 BST and will also be available at the Five Live Report website.


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