As revealed in The Independent last month, drug experts believe Britain is on the brink of a second heroin epidemic aimed at a new and younger group of users, including more middle-class teenagers.
Dealers have developed new markets in cities and towns that had previously escaped the worst ravages of the drug by selling heroin in affordable pounds 5 and pounds 10 wraps or bags, and often renaming it "brown".
Users as young as 10 are both smoking and injecting the Class A drug, many of them completely ignorant of its addictive powers, a Home Office report warned yesterday.
The users' average age has dropped from 17-25 to 14-25. There is also some evidence that heroin is being used as a "chill out" drug by young adult clubbers.
Heroin is being supplied by networks of "mobile" dealers who can be summoned with a single telephone call.
The Government and the country's drugs "tsar", Keith Hellawell, are so concerned about the rise in the use of heroin that they intend to target the market for the drug among under 25s.
The report, on England and Wales and by the Home Office Police Research Group, warned that unlike the epidemic of the 1980s linked to hardened drug addicts, today's new users are younger and even include a minority of teenagers from affluent, stable families.
In some areas children aged between 10 and 12 were found trying the drug.
The principal author of the survey of England and Wales, Professor Howard Parker said: "It is, unfortunately, reasonable to suggest that we are facing a second heroin epidemic."
Outbreaks are spreading to most regions of England, particularly in the North-east - including Newcastle and Hull - Yorkshire, West Midlands, Avon and the South-west, especially Bristol, places which have no previous history of significant heroin abuse.
In the 1980s the problem was most acute in London, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Scottish cities and towns on the Western side of Britain.
The study found that there was "Indisputable evidence" that dealers were rebranding the drug to appeal to a "new younger potentially 'towny' market". This included renaming it as "brown" or "browns", introducing users to the drug as a smokable powder, and pricing it at pounds 10 a wrap - the same as a tablet of ecstasy.
The report warned many of the new generation of heroin users considered it "just another drug". It called for a new public education blitz to "give heroin a bad name" and drive home the message about its particular dangers.
"Heroin outbreaks cannot be ignored. Heroin is not, as many apparently drug-wise young people in this study initially presumed, just another drug," said the report.
A dearth in current drug services was set to "seriously hamper" efforts to contain the spread, said the report, warning there would be an "unfortunate time-lag" before promised Government investment netted results.
"New Heroin Outbreaks Amongst Young People In England and Wales" is available by faxing 0171 273 4001.Reuse content