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Page last updated at 10:24 GMT, Monday, 13 July 2009 11:24 UK
Cocaine A&E cases hit record high

By Jim Reed
Newsbeat reporter

Seventeen people a week are now being admitted to accident and emergency departments after taking cocaine, according to official government figures seen by Newsbeat.

 Line of cocaine and a razor blade
More than one million people regularly use cocaine in the UK

Doctors treated 894 people in England for a "cocaine-induced health emergency" in 2007/8, compared with 740 in 2006/7 and just 448 in 2003/4.

The total number of people taken to hospital after using any type of illegal drug has risen 45% in five years to 9,543, according to the figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats.

"These statistics are really shocking," said the Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb.

"The price of cocaine has come down significantly but at the same time it has also [become] chic. That hides the massive health risks."

Health problems

More than one million people regularly use cocaine in the UK - more than any other European country - according to the UN's latest report.

Bags of cocaine
DrugScope says the average price of cocaine is £42 a gram

Snorting the drug in large or strong quantities often leads to hallucinations and disorientation. At the extreme end "cocaine poisoning" can occur where the user starts fitting and vomiting.

Cocaine use also constricts blood vessels and can result in a rise in body temperature, burst blood vessels and, in some cases, death from brain seizures, heart failure and respiratory problems.

Research in the medical journal Circulation suggests that up to 25% of heart attacks in people under 30 can be blamed on regular cocaine use, instead of the more typical coronary artery disease.

John, not his real name, from Northampton told Newsbeat he collapsed in a pub after months of serious cocaine use.

"I had bought coke that day and had been using it. As the night went on I got more paranoid to the point where not a lot was making sense. That's when the anxiety set in," he said.

"I remember getting up and thinking I need to get out and within five steps I collapsed and started having fits on the floor. It felt as if I was being kicked to pieces on the ground.

"I can't remember a great deal from that evening. I went straight to hospital and was seen by the mental assessment team and that is when I realised I needed to change my life."

Falling price, growing use

Doctors say the falling price of cocaine means users are more likely to take larger amounts on a night out, increasing the risk of an accidental overdose.

The average street price of the drug is now down to £42 a gram - partly because it is increasingly cut with other chemicals - according to the charity DrugScope.

By the time she got to the hospital it was too late; she died in the ambulance. I was devastated because we both just thought it was a bit of fun and it would never happen to us
Kerry, ex-cocaine user

That could make a line more dangerous as people either react badly to the cutting agent or get used to the low purity making them more vulnerable if they accidentally come across a strong batch.

The government's drug advisors warned last year that they are seeing more cases of young people ending up in hospital after snorting lines of MDMA - or powdered ecstasy - thinking it was cocaine.

Kerry, 23, from Kent, told Newsbeat she had a couple of bad nights on coke before deciding to stop taking the drug for good.

"I was doing too much of it. I remember being sick a few times and eventually I was found underneath the building fitting with my eyes rolling up the back of my head," she told Newsbeat.

"I don't remember any of it. I just remember waking up with my friends in front of me crying. They wanted to call an ambulance but I just about managed to come round but was hazy for about three days."

'Record investment'

Six months later one of Kerry's best friends died on a night out after taking the drug.

"She hadn't touched it for a while and then one weekend she got the wrong sort of stuff - which was mixed with MDMA and some other things - and then once it went up her nose it killed her," she said.

"By the time she got to the hospital it was too late; she died in the ambulance. I was devastated because we both just thought it was a bit of fun and it would never happen to us."

While government surveys show that drug use as a whole has fallen since records began in 1995, the number of adults taking cocaine has risen from 0.6% in 1994 to 2.3% last year.

A spokesperson for the Department of Heath said tackling drug misuse remains a priority.

"The government has invested £406 million for drug treatment in 2009/10, of which £24.7 million is available to support young people's treatment," she said.

"Drugs use amongst young people is actually declining. Thanks to record investment, specialist substance misuse services have expanded greatly and there are now more young people getting treatment.

"This is encouraging and reflects our continuing efforts to tackle drug use amongst young people."



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