The Government’s independent drug advisers are to launch a UK-wide review of the harmful effects of cocaine, it has emerged, as a committee of MPs warned that use of the drug has become socially acceptable.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) will undertake the year-long review after highlighting statistics that showed the proportion of people using cocaine had increased fivefold in the past 12 years. News of the review comes as the Home Affairs Committee warned of a “dangerous misconception” that the drug is safe.
It said the street price of a line of cocaine had halved in 10 years and more needed to be done to reduce its availability.
The committee’s report, published today, said it was “woefully inadequate” that only 3.5 tonnes out of the 25 to 30 tonnes of cocaine estimated to have entered the UK last year was seized and it warned of a culture of complacency when it comes to its interception.
Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, said: “The fact that it [cocaine] seems to have become more socially acceptable and seen as a safe, middle-class drug is a myth that must be tackled, with much greater effort put into the demand side of the trade here in the UK. Cocaine is a dangerous and lethal drug.”
In Scotland, 6.6% of people have taken cocaine according to the latest Scottish Crime and Justice Survey.
It found that the Class A drug was the second most commonly used illegal substance after cannabis, with 2.7% of adults saying they had taken it in the past year.
A worldwide comparison by the United Nations found that Scotland has the highest rate of cocaine users in the world.
Separate figures from the General Register Office for Scotland show that 79 people died after taking cocaine in 2008.
Professor Les Iversen, chairman of the ACMD, said he hoped the review would counteract a “common misapprehension that cocaine is a relatively safe drug”.
In a letter to Home Secretary Alan Johnson, he added: “Cocaine is a very harmful drug to individuals and, more broadly, society and evidence of the continued increasing prevalence of cocaine use is deeply concerning.”
Professor Iversen, whose predecessor, Professor David Nutt, was sacked last year for criticising the Government’s decision to reclassify cannabis to Class B from C, also highlighted concern about the increased mixing of cocaine with cutting agents.
He said: “Purity has been decreasing with possible implications for harms to users due to an increase in the volume of cutting agents which may be present in a sample.”