Irresistible rise of drug culture
By thisislondon – 21 August 2000
More people are taking drugs in London than ever before.
Scientific estimates suggest 600,000 regular drug users in the capital.
Professor Mike Hough, a criminologist at South Bank University, says that of these, some 8,000 have a major problem associated with addiction to heroin or crack cocaine.
Evidence from club-goers suggests cocaine is now replacing ecstasy as the most favoured recreational drug associated with clubs and bars, although ecstasy continues to be one of the most popular drugs around with huge seizures recorded by police and Customs. In one recent raid the Met recovered six million tablets.
The irresistible rise of drug taking was a major reason why the Government set up the Runciman Inquiry which has been collecting evidence for the past two and half years.
The figures for drug-taking continue to rise despite a more balanced approach by the police. The ecstasy drugs scene thrives mainly on the clubs circuit policed by Scotland Yard’s Clubs and Vice Unit. It operates a dual policy of enforcement and education about drugs in clubs. On the one hand they send in covert snatch squads to take out dealers but on the other accept that drug-taking exists and work with managers and bouncers to clean up drugs, or at least educate users about the dangers with “chill-out” zones and paramedics in clubs to help users.
Senior sources say the main drugs in use remain ecstasy, amphetamines and cocaine, and different clubs cater for different types of drug. Licensed clubs in the West End are closely monitored and the drug problem is worse in the suburbs or outside the centre.
In the case of cannabis, London figures show that in 1998 nearly 18,000 people were cautioned by police over cannabis. While that figure has nearly tripled in 10 years, it reflects a rise in the number of cannabis users rather than an increasing tendency for police to caution offenders. Both the Met and Customs operate a virtual tolerance policy towards soft drugs.
Heroin is also on the increase: some intelligence reports suggest around 1,000 kilos of heroin is flowing into London, every month. Overall, the drug figures for the capital over the last decade make plain reading.
Since 1987 the number of seizures has more than quadrupled. The most recent Home Office statistic relates to the year 1998 and shows a 10 per cent increase on the previous year.
The number of heroin seizures increased by 28 per cent and ecstasy was up five per cent. Cocaine seizures were up 40 per cent but the biggest rise was in crack cocaine, up 48 per cent.
The increase in drug use is also reflected in the number of people convicted or cautioned for drug offences. In 1998, a total of 29,385 people were found guilty or cautioned in connection with drugs offences in London compared with 8,456 10 years earlier.
Police estimate there are five million drug deals in London every year. Nationally, the cost of drugs crime is estimated at £1.6 billion. A recent report by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders showed one-third of all thefts, burglaries and muggings are committed to pay for drug-taking while a study by the National Criminal Intelligence Service linked drugs to 80 per cent of all organised gangland crime in London.
The underworld drugs culture in London is reflected in the number of murders investigated last year by officers from the Operation Trident team which tackles drug related violent crime. Across the capital last year there were 25 murders which had connections in one way or another with drug-dealing, and also 23 attempted murders.
The unusual surge in gun crime was successfully tackled by the Operation Trident team but senior officers believe such epidemics of gun crime and murder will only become a real issue when an innocent bystander is killed in the crossfire.
However, there is evidence elsewhere that the use of drugs may be declining among the young. One recent study by Exeter University showed drug use among under-16s apparently tailing off. The study of drug habits among 500,000 young people showed use declining for the third successive year.
The annual Exeter study had showed a steady increase in abuse until 1996. The most recent report, published earlier this month, said anti-drug campaigns appear particularly effective in reducing the attractions of ecstasy. The idea that the rave drug may be falling in popularity is also supported by a survey for the Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence.
It claims many recreational users may be being put off by the adverse publicity over the drug. However, instead of abstaining completely, they are merely switching to cocaine which is increasingly seen as a more fashionable and safer alternative.