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Friday, September 3, 1999 Published at 19:25 GMT 20:25 UK


Alarm at surge in cocaine abuse

Cocaine's popularity is rising as its price is falling, the report says

Cocaine use has soared among young people in England and Wales, sparking fears that its links with a celebrity lifestyle make it the new fashion drug.

Figures from the British Crime Survey 1998 showed a marked rise in the number of 20 to 24-year-olds using the Class A drug.

The BBC's Jane Peel: "Cocaine is still widely available"
And experts warned that a combination of falling prices and its connections with a string of celebrities were factors in the increase.

They say the links with success, wealth and glamour are persuading more young people to use the drug, often with champagne as part of the club scene.

Five percent of 20 to 24-year-olds admitted using cocaine last year, compared to 2% in 1996.

The report says even more admitted using the drug at some point in their lives.

[ image: Tara Palmer-Tomkinson: Admitted taking cocaine]
Tara Palmer-Tomkinson: Admitted taking cocaine
Grammes of cocaine, usually from South America, are said to sell for around £40 in some areas.

But despite the increase in cocaine use, there was not a similar rise in the use of crack, the highly addictive cooked form of the drug.

Paul Wiles, director of the Home Office Research Development and Statistics Directorate, said the increase in cocaine use was concentrated in London, southern England and Merseyside, with the most likely users either the very well-off or the poor.

Mr Wiles said recent media reports linking the drug to celebrities were "a cause for concern".

Sacked Blue Peter presenter Richard Bacon, Tom Parker Bowles and "It Girl" Tara Palmer-Tomkinson are among those who have recently admitted using cocaine.

But officials said Britain was not at risk from a US-style cocaine epidemic.

Health problems

Approximately 15-20 people in the UK die each year from cocaine overdoses.

Frequent use of the drug or taking it in large doses is linked to serious health problems.

[ image: Cannabis remains the most popular drug]
Cannabis remains the most popular drug
Possible side-effects include depression, paranoia, sleeplessness, brain damage.

Mike Goodman, director of Release, the national drug and legal advice line, said there had been a distinct rise in the use of cocaine in clubs - which had coincided with a rise in sales of champagne at the same venues, the traditional accompaniment of cocaine.

He said: "It's all linked to lifestyle. People have got more money, cocaine is cheaper. You can get it for £40 a gramme which people will club together and buy to share between them on a Saturday night."

Levels of drug use generally have remained stable since 1994, according to the survey, with cannabis still the most frequently used.

A quarter of 16 to 29-year-olds said they had used cannabis in month leading up to the survey.

Sharp contrast

Hallucinants associated with the dance culture such as amphetamines, LSD, ecstasy and magic mushrooms were the second most popular drugs but use was beginning to level off.

Consumption of heroin and crack remained "extremely rare", with only 1% of 16 to 29-year-olds admitting to having tried them.

But the results of a three-year project among school children in Northumbria and West Yorkshire contrasted sharply with the British Crime Survey figures.

The report said 2% of 13 to 14-year-olds in Northumbria and 3% of 15 to 16-year-olds in West Yorkshire had tried heroin.

It also showed by the age of 13, 26% of young people had tried at least one illegal drug, the most common of which was cannabis.

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