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Tuesday, 7 August, 2001, 12:10 GMT 13:10 UK
'I loved a crack addict'
Aaleeyah Culver
Aaleeyah Culver: "I felt I was losing my life"
Angered at perceptions that crack cocaine is a recreational drug rather than a hard one, student Aaleeyah Culver, 23, tells of her life with a crack addict on a south London estate.

I lived with a crack addict for nearly a year. I loved that addict, who was my boyfriend, with all my heart but I couldn't stick it any more.

Aaleeyah Culver
"It isn't a bridge to hard drugs - it is a hard drug"
The police stopped and searched me; we were raided at 6am; my ex stole incessantly and couldn't tear himself away from his pipe.

I think crack is more evil than heroin - one pipe can be all it takes to turn you into an immoral monster.

And crack is rife in London - I hardly met a person on my estate in south London who wasn't on it, or heroin, or both.

Starting young

There isn't enough help. It's not just about people choosing drugs, some of them don't see any other way of life.

Middle-class kids often go looking for cocaine, Es and ketamine - and end up with a pipe

I met kids who had been on crack since they were 10 or 11 - they passed it to their cousins as it was passed to them.

I caught a friend's two-year-old trying to open a stone of crack from its cellophane with his teeth in the thoroughly practised manner of a regular addict.

Luckily this child is now in care, but there will be many that are started on this road too long - most of the addicts I know have children.

Crack cocaine
Made by reducing cocaine to crystals
Smoked rather than snorted
I know girls as young as 13, who have been on the game and still are to fund their fixes of crack and heroin.

I have seen whole families set off for London to go shoplifting for drug money. I know a girl who will give oral sex, even full sex, for 4 - the price of a stone of crack is about 10.

Desperate measures

Crack addicts often use heroin to sleep - my ex-boyfriend often couldn't sleep for days after a heavy smoking session.

Aaleeyah Culver
"I know girls as young as 13 on the game"
He sometimes smoked 800 a night at least - and don't ask me how he got his money, it was by no means a legal pursuit.

I have only known one person who successfully used crack 'recreationally'. All the rest tell you, 'Oh my kids never go without' or 'I just do it when I have the money'. And the same people were knocking on our door for a pipe at 3am while their children slept, with their rent money, their wedding rings, their children's Christmas presents.

Every crack addict without exception tells me in earnest how they aren't like the others - but after you hear the same spiel 20 or 30 times you begin to get the picture of this huge denial.

Narrow escape

I have never smoked crack and I never will. I do smoke weed, but not excessively.

Aaleeyah Culver
Aaleeyah was offered - but didn't try - crack
When I was offered crack, I didn't know what it was. The crack pipe was at my mouth when I suddenly chickened out - I had a flash of fear and thank God I was saved from that.

This culture of crack will spread, and not just from the estates.

Some middle-class kids with money to spend out for a night in the West End or wherever often go looking for powder cocaine, Es and ketamine. They often end up on a pipe, told that it's just like powder - which of course it isn't, it's much worse.

What's going on with ketamine must be dangerous. The hard drug addicts I know wouldn't ever touch it - and they aren't the most discriminating people in the world.

Every crack addict tells me how they aren't like the others

Addiction by accident nearly happened to me - I have seen it happen to others and managed to pre-warn others.

But then I went running home to mummy and daddy, back in Hertfordshire. My university was suffering, my health was suffering, and my bank balance was suffering.

Real Time gives people a chance to tell their own stories in their own words. If you've got something to say, click here.

Aaleeyah Culver
"Crack and heroin are pretty much on an even par"
Aaleeyah Culver
"A couple of guys offered it to me and my boyfriend went mad"

See also:

14 Aug 00 | Scotland
06 Jun 00 | Americas
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