Heroin cheaper than ever before

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Britain is being flooded with the cheapest heroin ever sold on its streets. The street price of the drug has plunged to as little as £20 a gram in Bristol, long regarded as the cut-price narcotics capital of the UK.

Police are investigating the price drop amid fears it has been caused by an increase in supply from Afghanistan following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington five weeks ago.

Monitoring the price of drugs is the most effective way for police and customs officers to see how well they are disrupting supply lines of the organised crime gangs.

The drop has alarmed drugs squads. The National Criminal Intelligence Service put the average national price of heroin at £66 a gram for the period up to August but confirmed that Bristol prices had now dropped to just £20.

Just a few month ago the price was £40 a gram in the city, and even this was regarded as absurdly low. Bristol is now attracting dealers from all over the country who are buying heroin then selling it at marked-up prices in other UK cities.

NCIS said there was no evidence yet that the Taliban were flooding the market with heroin stockpiled in the months prior to September 11. "A lot of the speculation has been pretty wild," said a source. "There is no benefit to the gangs who traffic heroin to ratchet the price down. They are more likely to hold on to their stock and let the price rise."

The drop is likely to encourage increased drugs use, and may lead to higher dose purity, which in turn would increase the number of fatalities. Users with spare money may also spend it on other drugs such as crack cocaine. However, the drop in the street price could mean that addicts who steal to feed their habits will have to steal less.

Danny Kushlick, director of Transform, a Bristol-based national campaign group to legalise all drugs and take heroin out of organised crime, said: "At the consumer end the astonishing recent drop in the street price of heroin shows how little control the Government has over availability.

"And at the producer end, the Afghan, Pakistani and Turkish control of the market has been almost total. Any bombing of the poppy fields in Afghanistan will amount to little more than aerial rotovation for the next crop."