Cocaine use in England rose substantially in the five years to 2008 because of its cheapness, availability and increased social acceptance, a nationwide study revealed.
London was described as the epicentre of cocaine use in England, with an estimated 47 000 users. Other regions are catching up and all sections of society are part of the trend, the report said. It also found that women's cocaine use had shot up and almost matched men's consumption.
"We're very much in an age of chemical enhancement and a pill for every ill," said Jim McVeigh, head of substance use at the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University. "We're seeing it both within the most deprived areas ...(and) the affluent ones which have traditionally been associated with cocaine being a champagne type drug," he said.
The England-wide average of individuals aged 16 – 59 who had used cocaine at least once in their lifetime rose from 55.7 per thousand people in 2002/3 to 72.5 per thousand in 2007/8.
Cocaine cheaper than drinking
A major reason for the increased usage is the price of cocaine, which has fallen to an average 40 - 60 pounds (between R520 and R780) per gram from around 100 pounds (about R1 300) in the 1980s, making it a cheaper option than drinking for friends who can share one gram, splitting it into several lines to be snorted, McVeigh said.
Another reason is what McVeigh calls Britain's "medicalised society" where all kind of pills can be bought on the internet for anything from increasing sexual performance to dieting. This makes another chemical compound, such as cocaine, seem instantly more acceptable, he said.
"I think people at one time saw drugs as a homogenous group of substances which they either engaged in or they didn't ... I think now there's a lot more merging (of habits)," he said.
One of the clearest patterns, researchers said, was that women's cocaine consumption had soared, catching up with that of men as they became more independent and drank more, with drinking and cocaine use closely linked.
In 2006, 7.2% of men aged 10 - 25 had used cocaine in their lifetime compared with 6.66% of women. In 2003 the difference was far greater with 8.2% of males having used cocaine compared with only 4.8% of women.
The report pulled together data including household surveys, hospital records and drug treatment statistics available from 2002/3 to 2007/8. – (Reuters Health, June 2009)
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