Street price of drugs crashes to record low

Cocaine now cheaper than a glass of wine. Setback for Blair's war against dealers
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The Independent Online

The average street price of illegal drugs is at the lowest level for a decade, according to new figures. The cost of a line of cocaine is now less than a glass of wine in some parts of Britain. A tablet of ecstasy costs as little as £1.

The average street price of illegal drugs is at the lowest level for a decade, according to new figures. The cost of a line of cocaine is now less than a glass of wine in some parts of Britain. A tablet of ecstasy costs as little as £1.

The figures show widespread falls in the price of heroin, ecstasy, cannabis and cocaine, making hard drugs more affordable than ever before to young people.

Dealers are now selling heroin for as little as £35 a gram, compared with more than £80 in 1995, according to the Independent Drugs Monitoring Unit (IDMU), a specialist consultancy for lawyers working on court drug cases. Ecstasy prices have dropped from £14 a tablet to just £4, although it costs as little as £1 in some parts of the country.

The figures will be an embarrassment for the Government, which last week in the Queen's Speech declared a new war on drugs and placed the policy at the heart of its election campaign. Tony Blair announced harsher penalties for dealers operating near schools and compulsory drug testing for offenders charged with drug-related crimes.

The IDMU research is based on a comprehensive survey of users and details prices over the past decade. It shows that a gram of cocaine, which cost an average £56 in 1995, can now be bought for £45, or around £2.50 for every line snorted. The prices have come down for a variety of reasons including an increasing number of drugs gangs competing for the market but also indicate widespread availability of hard drugs in the UK. Matthew Atha, who conducted the survey, said more recreational users had prompted more competition and a subsequent price war.

The Opposition seized on the figures to claim the drugs strategy was not working. David Davis, shadow Home Secretary, said low prices and increased availability were symptoms of "failure across the board", from the explosion in the Afghan heroin trade to mixed messages caused by the decision of the Home Secretary David Blunkett to reclassify cannabis as a class C drug. "This has directly led to low drug prices and a massive increase in the trade with the consequences of a sharp increase in violent crime," said Mr Davis, who has pledged to reverse the reclassification.

Drugs charities support the new measures but said there was still too much emphasis on punishment instead of treating drugs as a public health issue.