Thursday, February 02, 2006

The cocaine shame of Edinburgh pubs

The Scotsman

THE true extent of Edinburgh's cocaine problem has been laid bare by an Evening News investigation which uncovered traces of the drug in two-thirds of the city's top bars and clubs.

The tumbling cost of cocaine has seen it become the drug of choice for growing numbers of young clubbers and drinkers.

It has lost its image from the 80s and 90s as a "yuppie drug" - with users now as likely to be a shop assistant as a bank executive.

But, despite its "good times" image, the growing love affair with cocaine has come at a price. NHS statistics show the number of people admitted to hospital in the Lothians due to the effects of cocaine abuse has increased tenfold over the last six years, rising steadily from two to 22.

Drug experts are warning that it is very easy to become addicted to cocaine, with regular users more likely to suffer from heart or respiratory difficulties.

Using field test kits made by United States manufacturer NIK - and used by the FBI - to carry out tests in the toilets of 12 pubs and nightclubs across the city centre last Friday night, the News investigation found widespread evidence of cocaine.

The kits' wipes turn blue when they come into contact with even minute traces of cocaine and our investigation team wiped the backs of seats and the tops of toilet-roll holders - commonly used as surfaces from which to snort cocaine.

In eight of the pubs and clubs visited, the wipes turned blue, proving cocaine had recently been on the surface.

In Ryan's Bar in the West End, a grainy powder was found on the men's toilet when the test was carried out.

Bar and club chiefs today said they carried out regular checks on customers and in toilets, but admitted they were powerless to stop people abusing drugs if they were determined enough.

Drug workers have said the price of a gram of cocaine on the city's streets has fallen in the last six years from £90 to just £35, meaning it is no longer the sole preserve of high-earners.

Edinburgh's anti-drugs chief Tom Wood, pictured below, who last year warned a line of cocaine was now cheaper than a glass of wine, said there was more cocaine on Edinburgh's streets than ever. He said it threatened to become a bigger problem than heroin.

He said: "The results are not a big shock and it wouldn't have surprised me if it was closer to ten out of 12 of the bars you tested.

"You have conducted a very interesting experiment because I don't think people are fully aware of the extent and dangers of cocaine abuse.

"There is real concern that cocaine is now coming in to Scotland in such huge quantities that its reach is penetrating even further. Heroin has traditionally been our biggest drug problem, but I think we are seeing a shift in focus to the problems of cocaine.

"Cocaine is flying false flags because it has this image as being very sophisticated and glamorous but it is in fact very dangerous. There is still this perception that cocaine is a clean drug because it is used by rock stars and supermodels."

Mr Wood said he feared the trend will see addicts seeking greater highs turn to "speedballing" - taking cocaine and heroin at the same time - and crack cocaine.

One recreational cocaine user, who asked not to be identified, said: "It happens in many of the bars and clubs in town and it is really easy to get cocaine - or whatever you want really. Most people carry it in with them and most of the venues have resident dealers so if you go to the same place you learn who is selling.

"You never ever get searched, and it's pretty obvious when in the men's toilets there's two urinals and one cubicle, yet five men are queuing for the cubicle yet no-one uses the toilet - or even flushes."

Another said: "It is not just in clubs and pubs you will find cocaine users. I think you see a hell of a lot of more cocaine used at dinner and house parties."

Neil Numb, events manager at The Edinburgh Clubbing Forum, which represents city clubbers and has more than 2000 members, said: "It is still a very secretive thing and it really depends on what social circles you move in.

"From a clubber's perspective I think the clubs have really tried to clamp down on drugs over the last few years. Clubs such as Cabaret Voltaire carry out full body searches and this has put a lot of drug dealers off. A few years ago anyone caught with a small amount of drugs might have had it confiscated and the bouncers would maybe bin it or crush it up in front of the cameras; today the police are called because club owners are more aware that they could lose their licence."

A spokesman for Montpeliers, which runs Opal Lounge and Indigo Yard, said: "All Montpeliers venues are committed to doing everything possible to prevent the misuse of drugs in our premises.

"We operate a stringent door policy and all stewards, bar staff and management go through rigorous training courses on how to be alert for unusual behaviour or other tell-tale signs. Staff and management carry out regular checks on the toilet facilities.

"We also employ attendants at both men's and women's toilets whose main task is to make regular checks on the lavatories to discourage anyone from using the facilities inappropriately.

"The toilets in the Opal Lounge were specially designed to ensure the cubicles can be occupied by only one person at a time and have no flat surfaces to dissuade, where possible, the minority of people determined to abuse drugs.

"Clearly it is impossible to have any kind of surveillance on toilet cubicles and therefore determined people will always find a way to use them to abuse drugs.

It must be recognised it is a problem for the whole of society, not only the pub, club and restaurant trade.

"We operate a strict zero tolerance policy on anyone caught abusing drugs in any of our venues. This involves notifying police and ensuring they are barred from all our premises."

Brian Crawford, director of The Dome, said: "You make it as difficult as possible for someone to get up to nonsense. But it is impossible to police behind a locked door."

Jeff Myers, managing director of Belhaven Pubs, which owns Siglo, said the matter was being investigated.

He said: "Our toilets are checked very regularly.

"Staff and door control are trained to be on the alert for signs of drug abuse about which we have a no tolerance policy, including random searches."



Post a Comment

<< Home