Crack use soars as price plunges

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The Independent Online

Crack cocaine is being blamed for an alarming rise in the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction, according to new research.

Crack cocaine is being blamed for an alarming rise in the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction, according to new research.

Figures to be published later this month by the Department of Health are expected to show that growing numbers of people are experimenting with crack for the first time while hooked on others drugs, especially heroin. Drug treatment agencies say there is now a "hidden population" of crack and cocaine addicts.

The average street price of crack, which is smoked or injected, has dropped from £23 to £18 a rock, although dealers are selling the drug for under £10 in some cities.

The government figures are based on research commissioned by the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA) into the profile of users presenting themselves at rehabilitaion clinics between 2003 and 2004. The study will provide an insight, for the first time, into the age, social background and gender of people addicted to illegal drugs.

Although the NTA findings are understood to show that the majority of addicts in treatment are heroin users, increasing numbers are also using crack and cocaine as their secondary drugs of choice. One notable figure to do so is Pete Doherty, who was sacked from his band The Libertines for his addiction to crack and heroin.

Official figures show that there are more than 200,000 users of crack in Britain, but drug agencies believe this is an underestimate. There is also evidence that London is no longer the centre for crack cocaine use. Research carried out by Sheffield University and Turning Point, an anti-addiction charity, revealed that almost half of drug users in Sheffield are hooked on crack.

This is backed up by research carried out by the chartiy Addaction, which works with more than 20,000 drug users a year and advises the Government on treatment programmes. Rosie Brocklehurst, from the charity, said that crack is increasingly popular in regional cities. "For a long time London was the centre for crack cocaine use but what we are seeing is that the Midlands for example is now comparable to London," she said.

Aiden Gray, director of Coca, which provides advice on stimulant drugs such as crack, said: "What is needed is education and services that cater for crack and cocaine users. The treatment available is generally geared towards people with opiate addictions."