Cocaine gets deadlier to lure rich customers
Cheaper and purer drugs could lead to record deaths as dealers compete to attract wealthy buyers
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’