Two-tier cocaine market gathers pace as drug grows in popularity

Billy Ehrenberg
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No longer all glitz and glamour? (Source: Getty)

There was a time when cocaine was a businessman’s drug: taken by the wealthy as they compared eggshell-blue business cards or used by celebrities following the rich and hedonistic path.

According to a report by the government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), now the drug is more ubiquitous; it has pervaded many rungs of British society and around 9.4 per cent of 16-59 year olds has tried it. In fact, the only illegal drugs which have been more popular since 1996 are cannabis and amphetamines, and use of the latter has fallen. This is due in part to a two-tier market, where very pure cocaine is contrasted by a cheaper, less pure product.

Here is a chart showing the proportion of respondents who said they had used certain drugs in the last year. Note how much higher cocaine use is when compared to other class A drugs like Meth and Heroin. Only ecstasy comes close.

Age differences

Interestingly, the overall trend has increased, but not all age groups are using to the same extent, as these two graphs show. The data is separated into two charts using the same scale, to avoid the inevitable confusion of eight lines at once.

Two-tier market

The report also found that prices are going down, as is purity. The price was at about £54 a gram in 2013, compared to a peak of £101 in 2009.

Purity has fluctuated since 2003 and now hovers just below 40 per cent. However, the study also points out that this disguises the fact there is a two-tier market, with some street seizures far more pure than others. The lowest point for purity was during 2009 when use reached its peak; only 20 per cent of the average grab was cocaine.

The substances typically used for cutting make for terrifying reading. Analysis found 50 different agents including some that were banned for human use due to side effects. Another, enzocaine, is a local anaesthetic used by dentists and mixed with other dilatants because it mimics the tingling nostrils typically experienced when sniffing cocaine.

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