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Last Updated: Monday, 23 February, 2004, 09:25 GMT
Cocaine fears highlighted
Maryann Maguire
BBC Northern Ireland

The emergence of a growing Class A drugs market is putting the lives of young adults in Northern Ireland at risk, the police have warned.

Chief Superintendent George McCauley, who is the head of the PSNI's drug squad, said paramilitaries and criminal groups were seeking to flood the market with cocaine.

The police and community activists say that dealers are trying to get young people hooked on the Class A drug.

"Dealers are seeking to develop a cocaine market", he said.

Eight kilos of pure cocaine were seized by police in NI last October

"We are seeing an increased demand for cocaine and therefore an increase in supply."

Last October, police made their biggest ever seizure of cocaine.

Eight kilos of the drug, with a potential street value of 1m, were recovered in the Lurgan and Lisburn areas.

Police said this seizure had helped break a major drugs ring operation with connections to the Loyalist Volunteer Force in the Mid-Ulster area.

The emergence of a hard drugs market is also being linked to the ceasefires and an increase in criminal activities by paramilitary groups and organised criminal gangs with links throughout Europe.

"I think it is a result of particular circumstances in Northern Ireland that prevailed until the ceasefires," said Mr McCauley.

"Post ceasefires, we have seen an escalating drugs market and that includes a trend towards Class-A drugs and that is very worrying."

The Organised Criminal Task Force's Threat Assessment for 2003 states that cocaine seizures accounted for 3% of all seizures.

We are seeing demand across the board and are seeing it from areas where historically we did not see it
George McCauley
PSNI Drugs Squad

However, community activists believe this figure is low because the drug is so popular that it is sold and consumed as soon as it arrives in Northern Ireland, leaving police little time to react.

Research published in a Northern Ireland Affairs Committee report last October also quoted a study by the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

It stated that "the number of admissions to the service who self-reported cocaine use rose from 3% in September 2000 to 29% in February 2003".

For years cocaine, which is also known as "charley" or "snow", has not been viewed by the Department of Health as a major problem.

However, Rob Phibbs, Drugs and Alcohol coordinator, said young people were still much more likely to use cannabis and ecstasy than cocaine.

But community activists believe that dealers are actively promoting cocaine as the "partying" drug.

Sean Paul O'Hare, education and training officer with the Falls Community Council drugs program and believes drug dealers are actively promoting cocaine.

Bobby McConnell, manager of Coda, a community-based group active in south and east Belfast, believes that people are also openly using cocaine in clubs and pubs.

Last year, more than 60 people sought the help of specialised organisations, such as the Dunlewey Substance Abuse Centre because of cocaine addiction. This figure is growing.

What is worrying community activists most is that young adults are switching from cannabis and ecstasy to cocaine.

Community activists also fear that cocaine use will prove a gateway drug to crack, as has been the pattern in other cities.

BBC NI's Maryann Maguire:
"Community activists and the police say dealers are trying to get young people hooked on the Class A drug"

Loyalists linked to cocaine haul
24 Oct 03  |  Northern Ireland
'One in five' use illegal drugs
21 Oct 03  |  Northern Ireland
'Confusion' over cannabis legality
13 May 03  |  Northern Ireland


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