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Monday, 24 June, 2002, 21:11 GMT 22:11 UK
Crack trade violence 'hits UK's poorest'
Crack cocaine
Crack cocaine is linked to street crime and violence
"Extraordinary" levels of violence are hitting some of Britain's poorest communities as the use of crack cocaine spirals, the government has warned.

At the first conference on tackling crack abuse Drugs Minister Bob Ainsworth said black communities and the young were often at greatest risk.

The leader of Operation Trident, which deals with black on black crime, said gangs importing the drug, often from Jamaica, are clearly linked to gun crime in Britain and must be stopped.

Drugs campaign groups called on the government to put treatment for addicts on a par with that for heroin users.


Crack cocaine preys on communities that are already disadvantaged and discriminated against

Lee Jasper
They also said that crime associated with crack would continue until it was legalised and given to addicts over the counter.

In Scotland the Drugs Enforcement Agency reported a threefold increase in seizures of heroin and cocaine and claimed it had disrupted more than 70 gangs.

'Power and respect'

Speaking in Birmingham, Mr Ainsworth said police must build strong links with communities, to help people drive dealers out of their area.

He said crack abuse was highest among black people, unlike heroin which is used by more white people.

"The black community does have a problem," Mr Ainsworth said.

"The levels of violence with the black community are quite extraordinary."

'Intimidation'

Mr Ainsworth said crack is especially difficult to deal with because the levels of addiction are so high and treatment is not as well understood as it is for heroin.

Smoking crack
Treatment of crack addicts has proved difficult (Picture: SPL)
He told BBC Radio Four's Today programme that in areas where police had the support of the community the fight against crack had been very effective.

The minister said Operation Trident has had success fighting the crack trade when information has been supplied by members of the communities affected.

Commander Alan Brown, the head of Operation Trident, said there was a growing culture among young people to carry guns and sell drugs "in a way they think leads to power and respect".

He said the trade's links to Jamaican gangs "cannot be ignored" and warned that lives were being put at risk by the practice of using 'drugs mules', who smuggle crack into Britain by swallowing packages.

Mr Brown wants police to work with communities to help them "reject the intimidation and violence to secure a safer society".

Lee Jasper from the Greater London Authority said: "Crack cocaine preys on communities that are already disadvantaged and discriminated against. "

'Turf wars'

Danny Kushlick of campaign group Transform said the government needs to reassess its whole drugs policy, starting with the admission that making drugs illegal does not work.


It's certainly associated with more violent crime and particularly thefts, robberies and burglaries.

Steve Stevens - drugs worker
He said: "If you look at what happens when you hand the trade over to international organised crime and unregulated dealers you see all the problems the government then tries to solve.

"So, turf wars, property crime, street dealing, access to drugs by young people - those are the problems that are actually caused by prohibition."

Steve Stevens, who runs a private drugs clinic, said serious crimes tend to be linked with the use of crack.

Crack facts
Sold as small crystals to smoke
Each 'rock' costs 20 to 25
Addictive and causes heart problems
Can cause paranoia and aggression
He said it also acts as an anaesthetic, adding: "Therefore if (users) become violent and other people respond then they are less likely to feel hurt while that's happening."

John Witton, a researcher with Action on Addiction, said more research was needed to find the best ways to treat crack addicts.

He said drug treatment services are largely geared toward heroin use, and while there is no "ready pharmacological solution for crack, like methadone for heroin use, we know that crack can be successfully treated."

Mr Witton said research showed crack was used by half of people interviewed by the Probation Service about drugs.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"It's the fastest growing drug used by young people"
Bob Ainsworth, Home Office minister
"It is the most difficult drug to deal with"
Grantley Hayes, Wheeler Street Treatment Centre
"It is a growing problem"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
See also:

24 Jun 02 | Scotland
24 Apr 02 | England
17 May 02 | UK
10 Jun 02 | England
17 Oct 01 | UK
13 Jun 00 | UK
07 Aug 01 | UK
24 Jun 02 | UK
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