Co­caine gets dead­lier to lure rich cus­tomers

Cheaper and purer drugs could lead to record deaths as deal­ers com­pete to at­tract wealthy buy­ers

The Sunday Telegraph - - News - By Steve Bird

THE vi­o­lent turf war be­ing waged be­tween gangs com­pet­ing to sell co­caine to wealthy peo­ple will see pu­rity rise to danger­ous lev­els and re­sult in record num­bers of drug deaths, ex­perts warn.

While gangs have adopted high street-style loy­alty cards in the bat­tle for “mar­ket dom­i­nance” on Bri­tain’s streets, deal­ers are also in­creas­ing the po­tency of the drug to try to guar­an­tee cus­tomer loy­alty.

And it is feared that the price of co­caine could even plum­met as the gangs, which are linked to stab­bings and shoot­ings across Lon­don, be­come more com­pet­i­tive in a sat­u­rated mar­ket.

The lat­est data from the Of­fice for Na­tional Statis­tics shows that deaths from co­caine in Eng­land and Wales have more than dou­bled in just four years.

There were a record 371 deaths from the drug in 2016, com­pared with 139 in 2012. In 2016-17, 12,000 peo­ple were taken to hos­pi­tal with co­caine re­lated dis­or­ders, com­pared with 5,148 ad­mis- sions in 2007-08. Now it is feared that, be­cause the pu­rity of the drug on the streets – usu­ally about 54 per cent pure co­caine – is the high­est it has been for decades, the dan­gers are in­creas­ing.

Many drug users wrongly be­lieve that purer co­caine is safer. In fact, the op­po­site is true, as bulk­ing agents such as ben­zo­caine, a painkiller, are far less danger­ous than co­caine it­self.

Tony Sag­gers, the for­mer head of drugs threat at the Na­tional Crime Agency, said the in­crease in pu­rity is a re­sult of the “business model” used by or­gan­ised gangs try­ing to pro­mote “cus­tomer loy­alty”. He added: “Prices of co­caine could ac­tu­ally drop be­cause the Al­ba­nian or­gan­ised crim­i­nal gangs in con­trol of the mar­ket have re­ally had an im­pact on whole­sale prices”.

While a “whole­sale” kilo­gram used to cost £50,000, Mr Sag­gers claimed that East­ern Euro­pean gangs had re­peat­edly dropped that price – now at around £30,000 – to outdo com­peti­tors. “Pu­rity has in­creased at street level be­cause the price at whole­sale has dropped, so there is no need to adul­ter­ate it,” he said. “There is a po­ten­tial that the purer the co­caine be­comes at re­tail level, the greater the like­li­hood there will be more deaths.

“Firstly, lower-pu­rity co­caine is rarely mixed with more danger­ous sub­stances than co­caine it­self. Se­condly, if you have an un­der­ly­ing health prob­lem, such as a heart con­di­tion, co­caine speeds up the body and is likely to cause a prob­lem, par­tic­u­larly at higher pu­rity.”

The Sun­day Tele­graph has ob­tained pro­mo­tional text mes­sages drug deal­ers have sent cus­tomers of­fer­ing “bonus” drugs, in­clud­ing Ec­stasy and MDMA, with ev­ery or­der of co­caine.

David Lammy, the MP for Tot­ten­ham, where gang mur­ders con­nected to the drugs trade have taken place, said peo­ple were turn­ing a blind eye to how drug use fu­els vi­o­lence.

“Even for peo­ple who are proud to be so­cially con­scious and en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious, when it comes to or­der­ing co­caine to a house party or a din­ner party on a Fri­day night there is very lit­tle aware­ness of what is re­ally go­ing on and how poor, black youths are ba­si­cally foot sol­diers for a few Mr Bigs fur­ther up the food chain,” he said.

‘Many drug users wrongly be­lieve that purer co­caine is safer. In fact, the op­po­site is true’

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