Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Inside Britain's cocaine culture

Yorkshire Post

It taks just seconds to snort, but the effects can be fatal.

Forget the brandy or wafer thin mints, according to Britain's top policeman a growing number of the country's upper and middle classes are rounding off their traditional dinner parties with a line of cocaine.

In an attempt to crack down on a drugs trend that is in danger of becoming "socially acceptable", Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, has promised to target affluent users of the Class A substance who believe that their wealth or position puts them above the law.

But cocaine knows no social boundaries and it's not just the chattering classes or the likes of supermodel Kate Moss who are attracting the attention of the police for alleged abuse of illegal substances.

Thanks to a sharp drop in its price, now about £40-£60 per gram, the drug that was once the preserve of yuppies and rock stars is rapidly becoming the recreational drug of choice for a vast number of users, creating fears of mass addiction and spiralling health costs.

Due in part to a common misconception that cocaine is neither as addictive nor as harmful as some other Class A drugs, its use in the UK is soaring, with an estimated 344,000 people abusing the drug every month. The ease of ingestion by snorting or sniffing also seems to carry much less of a social stigma than the injection of drugs perceived to be more harmful, such as heroin.

According to Leeds Student Medical Practice, an NHS facility that cares for the health of students at the University of Leeds, all cocaine users are gambling with potential addiction. "Some can take it once and never feel the desire to use it again, in others it proves to be totally addictive immediately," warns the practice.

It has been estimated that one in seven people who take the drug will become hooked and require treatment.

The Government's national drug awareness campaign FRANK suggests that psychological dependence is more of a problem than any actual physical withdrawal symptoms, however, low mood and a general feeling of being under the weather (many users report flu-like symptoms when coming down from a high) soon after the effects of the substance have worn off, tempts users to take more of the drug. FRANK warns a cocaine habit can be both costly and "risks taking over your life".

However, the risk of addiction is just the tip of the iceberg with medical professionals and health charities warning users of the very real health risks associated with the drug.

The euphoric highs achieved after snorting cocaine, which many users claim boosts energy levels and enhances confidence, last between only 15 and 30 minutes. But frighteningly, in the hour after taking the drug, the user is up to 24 times at greater risk of suffering from a heart attack.

In a study conducted by the Institute for Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease it was discovered the average age of people who suffered heart attacks after using cocaine was only 44 – approximately 17 years younger than the average cardiac patient. The vast majority of users had no prior symptoms of heart disease.

Cocaine is thought to be responsible for a quarter of all heart attacks in people under the age of 45.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) warns users that cocaine abuse can contribute to heart attacks in three different ways. Cocaine increases the heart's demand for oxygen by raising the pulse rate and blood pressure making the heart work faster. The drug can reduce the blood flow through the coronary arteries by causing spasm of the arteries or by causing a blood clot. Cocaine is also responsible for a condition known as Myocarditis or inflammation of the heart. The BHF also reports that cocaine can trigger abnormal heart rhythms. Abnormal heart rhythms vary in severity, but occasional incidences of sudden cardiac death have been connected to cocaine use.

June Davison, a cardiac nurse with the BHF, is concerned about the rise in recreational use of cocaine, saying, "Seven to 10 per cent of all patients arriving at hospital accident and emergency departments complaining of chest pain test positive for cocaine use."

Ms Davison adds: "The majority of patients suffering from cocaine-related heart problems have no underlying condition. Perfectly healthy young people are suffering from heart attacks and strokes because of cocaine."

Citing the drug's ease of availability, its low cost and the influence of celebrities associated with the drug for its rise in popularity, Ms Davison also warned about the increased dangers of mixing cocaine with alcohol.

Drug support workers are also concerned the real scale of Britain's cocaine problem is going undetected. According to Anna Pilgrim, review and development coordinator for Hull Citysafe, a local authority service responsible for auditing crime, disorder and drugs abuse in the city, 40 to 50 per cent of all people charged with criminal activity test positive for drugs. Twenty per cent of these test positive for cocaine, 25 per cent for cocaine and heroin and 55 per cent for heroin. The majority of recreational cocaine users, however, do not enter the criminal justice system and so it is hard to estimate the exact scale of the problem.

"Members of the team have seen a growing number of young people who have reported to A&E departments suffering chest pains linked to cocaine use," says Steven Johnson, team leader with Hull-based drugs support group Axis. "They tend to be at the younger end of the scale of users we see and are largely clubbers or recreational users."

Confirming the addictive nature of the drug Mr Johnson adds: "The problem is when you stop taking a drug like cocaine reality slows down and life becomes boring, driving many users back to the drug."

But heart disease is not the only health risk associated with cocaine. A recent report published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, also stated that cocaine users risked life-threatening abdominal problems with symptoms including abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and bloody diarrhoea, which can occur between one and 48 hours after taking the drug.
Luke Meleagros, consultant surgeon at North Middlesex University Hospital and one of the report's authors, said, "Abdominal complications are more common with users of crack cocaine and in poor, inner city areas.

"However, we suspect that there is an under reporting or misrecognition of the problem in other areas, particularly affluent areas, as these complications occur in cocaine users as well.

"In extreme cases, a patient may end up with a colostomy."

In the eyes of the law cocaine is a Class A drug which means it is illegal to possess, give away or sell. Possession can result in a seven-year prison sentence. Dealing in the drug potentially carries a life sentence and unlimited fine.


Anonymous johnny void said...

Don't Talk to Frank, Frank Talks Crap

Government website is riddled with inaccuracies, inconsistancies and contradictions the void can exclusively reveal today.

The site, set up in a blaze of publicity, aims to be a user friendly guide to drugs aimed at young people. However with some parts of the website pure comedy, and others at times dangerously inaccurate it seems young people may not be getting the 'harm minimisation' advice they need.

more at

2/21/2006 05:56:00 AM  
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6/11/2012 04:25:00 AM  

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