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Monday, 24 June, 2002, 21:10 GMT 22:10 UK
Q & A: The growing crack cocaine scourge
The government is warning that the problem of crack cocaine use on Britain's streets is spiralling out of control.

BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw explains why it has grown and what is being done to stamp it out.

Q: How big is the crack problem in the UK?

A: The Home Office says it is a real problem and it's a growing problem.

Crack cocaine use is definitely increasing, particularly among young people.

The latest figures show that more than 100,000 16-24 year olds are using crack and around 200,000 adults of all ages are using it.

It's not as widespread as heroin but it is spreading across the UK. You can buy crack in London and other big cities and biggish towns.

Compared with drug use overall, which is fairly stable, use of cocaine and crack cocaine is increasing.

Q: Why has crack become popular?

A: Dealers have been very clever because they have exploited the supply routes that were used for heroin. These routes were already in existence and a lot of the same dealers who are selling heroin are also selling crack cocaine using the same network.

Also the price of crack cocaine has been tumbling.

You can buy a wrap of crack cocaine - a rock - for as little as 10 - and there's lots of it coming into the UK.

There is also a ready market. There are people who want to experiment with drugs and areas where there is little else to do and they feel alienated from society.

Q: How dangerous is crack?

A: It has very strong psychological addictive properties.

Heroin, for example, has a clear medical addiction. Crack is more psychologically addictive. It gives a more instant high and then you want more.

It carries a lot of health risks, particularly with its association to violent crime. To further your addiction you have spend hundreds of pounds a day and you get that money from burglary, robbing, shoplifting.

And the people who are dealing tend to be men of violence and they will use any means possible to make their profit.

Q: Who are the dealers?

A: According to the police and Home Office they are Jamaican criminal gangs.

Crack cocaine is made up of powdered cocaine which is baked into crystals in the UK.

Cocaine powder comes from abroad, mainly Columbia, and most of it makes its way into the UK via Europe.

Crack cocaine originates in Jamaica. People come on flights from Jamaica, smuggling the drug by swallowing packets and concealing them in their stomachs.

They're called drug mules or swallowers.

Jamaican criminals organise people on the street to deal the drugs and they tend to be young, black man.

Q: What are the police doing?

A: They have set up several special operations to target drug related crime.

In London it's called Operation Trident, while in Bristol, for example, it's Operation Atrium.

These have had some level of success, at least in controlling some of the gun-related violence.

Q: What community action is being taken?

A: There have been calls from some black leaders for the communities themselves to get a grip of the problem.

For example, Lee Jasper, a leading black figure in London, made a number of calls for the black community to educate themselves about the risks and how to shop the dealers.

Q: How does the problem of crack relate to the debate on the legalisation of drugs?

A: Crack cocaine is not going to be legalised. There is no question that the penalties for it are going to remain as tough as they are at the moment.

The only way it relates to the legalisation debate is if a link is proved between doing soft drugs like cannabis and moving onto crack. But that link has not been made.

Q: What is difference between cocaine and crack cocaine?

A: Cocaine is a pure, white powder and is normally sniffed.

Crack cocaine is the powder cooked with baking powder in an oven, microwave or frying pan. Then it is smoked.

The name comes from the cracking noise it makes when it is cooked.

See also:

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