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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May 2005, 14:44 GMT 15:44 UK
Cocaine use 'continuing to rise'
Cocaine
Cocaine use has risen sharply among 25-34 year-olds
Cocaine use is continuing to rise in England and Wales according to new Home Office research.

The drug is now the second most popular after cannabis, with more than three- quarters of a million people saying they have used it in the last year.

Use of magic mushrooms has also jumped, although the 2005 Drugs Act will clamp down on them being sold openly.

The figures come from a study of 24,422 people as part of the 2003/04 British Crime Survey (BCS).

The BCS found that 2.4% of people aged 16-59 had taken cocaine in the last year, compared with 2.1% in the 2002/03 survey and 0.6% in 1996`.

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The drug is gaining favour most sharply among 25-34 year olds - the so-called dinner party cocaine set.

In 1996 only 1.1% of this age group had taken cocaine in the previous 12 months but by 2003/04 that figure had jumped to 4.5%.

In total, more than a million people in England and Wales use Class A drugs, half a million of them doing so regularly.

Ecstasy use has remained constant for two years running with 2% of those surveyed taking it at least once a year.

But heroin and crack cocaine are the least used Class A drugs with just 0.1% and 0.2% of those surveyed taking them.

Mushrooms

Hallucinogenic drugs as a whole have been falling from favour in recent years according to the figures - largely due to the shrinking popularity of LSD.

However, use of magic mushrooms has risen more than 40% in a year, with more than a quarter of a million people estimated to have taken them in 2003/04, compared with 180,000 in 2002/03.

But the 2005 Drugs Act, which received royal assent last month, closes a loophole which tacitly allowed the possession and sale of fresh magic mushrooms as long as they had not been "prepared" for drug taking.

Mushrooms and growing kits are currently sold openly on the internet and in about 400 shops around the UK, according to the government's Tackling Drugs website.

The act is expected to come into force in July this year, and will clarify that the possession, production or supply of magic mushrooms whether fresh or dried is categorised as a Class A drug offence.

Exceptions will be made for people who unknowingly pick the mushrooms in the wild or find them growing in their garden, and critics have argued the act will be difficult to police.

Cannabis reclassification

It is too soon to tell from the BCS figures whether the reclassification of cannabis from a Class B to a Class C drug in January 2004 has led to a surge in use of the drug.

It remains the most popular drug among all age groups with 10.8% - an estimated 3.3 million people - saying they have used it in the last year.

The government haven't lost the war on drugs - in fact they haven't even begun to fight it.
David Davis,
Shadow home secretary

Of those, two thirds appear to be regular users with over two million taking the drug in the last month.

Shadow home secretary David Davis said: "Hard drug use has gone up by almost a third since Labour came to power - there are now more than a million hard drug users in Britain.

"Even more alarming is the fact that the number of people regularly using hard drugs has gone up by two thirds."

He added: "The government haven't lost the war on drugs - in fact they haven't even begun to fight it."

Marcus Roberts of drugs charity DrugScope said: "Anyone following the media or listening to some MPs recently would have thought that drug use is going through the roof, but as these latest figures prove, the facts reveal a very different story.

"Of course the increase in Class A drug use is worrying and we can't afford to be complacent about the continued popularity of cocaine, but it's time to focus on what is really happening with drugs in this country."


The figures are taken from the results of 24,422 respondents who completed the drugs module of the British Crime Survey and an extra 2,332 16-24-year-olds who were also interviewed by the survey team.




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