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Monday, 16 December, 2002, 11:13 GMT
Young, rich and smoking crack

Crack cocaine abuse in the UK could be on the increase. However, new addicts come not only from ranks of the underprivileged, but from the employed and affluent middle classes too.
On a Friday night in east London, Tony - a 24-year-old musician - has invited a few friends around to his house to smoke some crack cocaine.

It's something the well-spoken Londoner does a few times each month. While others might enjoy getting drunk to celebrate the weekend, Tony - who does not touch alcohol - likes to have a few puffs on his crack pipe.

Across town on the same night Jim - an ex-public school boy, also in his twenties - is out on the streets of Soho looking for his regular crack dealer.

Crack cocaine
Why is crack attracting rich users?
"It's not something I do particularly often, but I like it now and again," he says, finally spotting his supplier huddled in a doorway.

"After you've had a really stressful week, you'll take cocaine on a night out and then go back to someone's house where you'll make some crack."

Tony and Jim are the hidden face of crack usage in Britain, where the image most people have of crack users is of drug-addled, unemployed youths sprawled out in council estate stairwells.

"There is a whole lot of middle class, white crack users out there," says Tony, who feels particularly aggrieved at being labelled a "junkie crackhead" because of his habit.

The hidden users

"Basically I have a quite healthy relationship with crack. I don't see my occasional crack use as any more degenerate than someone who has had to learn how to fit their PlayStation Two playing in around their homework."

There is plenty of anecdotal and some statistical evidence to suggest that crack use is going up in the UK.

Brazilian police guard seized cocaine
The price of cocaine in the UK has fallen
Home Office figures estimate that there are over 200,000 crack users in Britain, a small increase of 0.3% since 1994.

But what most experts agree is that this figure misses out the wealthier, middle class users who make contact with neither the criminal justice system nor drug treatment agencies and so never get counted.

Although there is by no means a crack epidemic, there is plenty of reason for worry at the moment, say the experts who have observed changes in drug usage.

Manchester University has been following the drugs habits of 500 people from when they were 13 years old in 1991, to now when they are 22.

'More acceptable'

When the group were 18 years old, only 6% had tried cocaine. Most told researchers that they would never take the drug because it was too addictive.

However, by the age of 22, at least 27% of them had tried cocaine, according to researcher Professor Howard Parker.

"So just over this three or four-year period, because cocaine has become much more available and much more acceptable in the pub club scene, the people who said before they would never take it are now taking it," says Mr Parker.

Will crack use mirror the rise of cocaine?
"There is always the danger of that same process happening again with crack."

The conditions are right for a increase in crack use. Britain is currently riding a wave of cheap cocaine.

"It only takes a few minutes and some simple kitchen implements to turn cocaine into crack," says Aiden Gray of COCA, a drugs information service.

"Dealers are finding they can make far bigger profits by turning cheaper cocaine into more expensive crack."

The dangers for recreational drugs users wanting to experiment are huge. Although crack is not strictly speaking addictive in medical terms, like heroin, it can still make users desperate to chase a high.

"Snorting cocaine you can spend 60 having a 'good' night, but with crack you can spend 500 getting a high," says Jim.

While some people manage to live with a crack habit like Jim and Tony, there are plenty more who self-destruct.

"What's important is you don't demonise crack users so they can feel free to come forward and get help," says Tony.

Clubbing Rocks is broadcast on BBC Radio 1 at 2300 GMT, Monday 16 December. It is available online by going to the Radio 1 website and going to the Lamacq Live website and clicking on Documentaries.

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