In an ordinary village, the bleak evidence of a national drugs crisis

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THE FORMER pit village of Moorends, near Doncaster, is home to 4,500 people. There are a handful of pubs and a rugby club, and the villagers take pride in their small, neat gardens. It is also home to 150 registered drug users.

One in 30 of the village's population either uses drugs or is trying to quit. The users are teenagers, men in their thirties, women in their twenties. They are people who have become disaffected and disillusioned. They are people who decided to try heroin for lack of something better to do.

It would be comforting to think that Moorends was an extraordinary example of drug use in a deprived area. But the village is frighteningly ordinary. It is just one victim of what experts are calling the "second wave of heroin".

The highly addictive drug has penetrated all areas of the British Isles, and is more easily available and cheaper than ever. Heroin users are now younger and come from a wider variety of backgrounds and communities. They are as likely to live in rural communities as cities; villages are as likely to have a drug dealer as they are to have a post office.

This second wave is being driven by low prices and a conscious repackaging by dealers. Heroin, once seen as the drug of despairing, longer- term, needle-based addiction, is now being pushed as a recreational drug to be smoked occasionally rather than injected. As a result, the age profile of the users is falling. Research for the Home Office carried out by Professor Howard Parker has identified the 14 to 25 age group as being most at risk.

Heroin - however repackaged - remains highly dangerous and addictive. About 200 people in England and Wales died from taking heroin in 1997 - six times more than the entire number of fatalities caused by ecstasy, cocaine, LSD and cannabis. This is why the Government has focused on heroin users in its new drugs strategies, including its policy to send drug offenders to rehabilitation centres.

Moorends is a cautionary tale of how the new wave of heroin can affect the most unlikely places. All this week, The Independent will be taking readers to the heart of this epidemic, to look at the drug's pervasive spread into British life, and the consequences of its use.

We will be talking to the users and their dealers; showing how dealers "remarketed" what was seen as a loser's drug; identifying the new drugs barons; and asking, in the light of the new government policy, can Britain's under-resourced drugs clinics cope?