United Nations says Scotland is global hotspot for cocaine use

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The Independent Online

Scotland has been identified by the United Nations as the country with the biggest cocaine habit in the world.

A study by the UN reveals that more people per head of the population use cocaine in Scotland than anywhere else.

With England suffering the second highest level of usage, equal with Spain, the United Kingdom was identified as Europe's biggest market for the drug in terms of overall consumption. More than one in four of Europe's cocaine users are in the UK, researchers found.

The UN World Drug Report found that 3.7 per cent of the adult population in Scotland used cocaine in 2009, the same level as in 2005 but almost three times as high as in 200.

In England and Spain the level was three people in every hundred but whereas usage in Spain remained similar to 2005, in England there was a sharp increase from 2.4 per cent four years ago.

By contrast, in the United States, which is perceived to have a huge cocaine problem, the level of usage was 2.6 per cent of the adult population aged 16 to 59.

Researchers for the UN said of cocaine use: "The only major European market showing an increase is the United Kingdom. The highest prevalence of cocaine use in Europe is found in Scotland. The United Kingdom is thus overall Europe's largest cocaine market in absolute numbers with some 1.2 million users in 2009." The global cocaine market is estimated to be worth £60bn and in Europe the number of users doubled to 4.1 million in the last 10 years.

Part of the reason for the UK's high consumption is that Colombian producers have been forced to look for new markets after authorities cracked down on supply chains to the US.

Scotland was also found to have, with Estonia, some of the highest levels of heroin use in the world, though cannabis use is falling. Western Europe is the world's biggest heroin market, taking 26 per cent of it, followed by Russia, with 21 per cent, and China, with 13 per cent.

A separate report revealed that 105kg of class A drugs worth £21m were seized by the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA). George Meldrum, its director general, said arrests are increasingly being made that reflect the organisation's determination to arrest senior gang members rather than just the "foot soldiers".

Kenny MacAskill, Scotland's Cabinet Secretary for Justice, said the SCDEA report provided evidence of "significant progress" being made in tackling serious crime in Scotland.