Drug addiction is surging among Asian community

In one of the country's most traditional Muslim areas, arrests for dealing in and using hard and soft drugs have tripled in past four years
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The Independent Online

Four years ago an Asian teenager living in Blackburn, Lancashire, would have been hard pressed to find someone selling cannabis within his community. Today it takes a matter of minutes for one of a dozen or more Asian drug dealers to provide a neighbour with a door-to-door delivery service of heroin, speed, crack cocaine and cannabis.

Four years ago an Asian teenager living in Blackburn, Lancashire, would have been hard pressed to find someone selling cannabis within his community. Today it takes a matter of minutes for one of a dozen or more Asian drug dealers to provide a neighbour with a door-to-door delivery service of heroin, speed, crack cocaine and cannabis.

After years of bucking the national trend, the scourge of drug abuse has arrived in Britain's Asian communities.

A new study by the police in Blackburn - the constituency town of the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, shows a more than threefold increase in the number of Asians being arrested for drug offences in the past four years. While nearly all of them are held for cannabis offences and the numbers are still far less than among the white population, there are a significant number becoming involved in heroin abuse. Drug agencies in the town also report a surge in the number of young Asian men seeking help.

Asian community leaders, the police and drugs workers are having to adjust to an emerging youth culture that is increasingly rejecting the teachings of religious leaders and the influence of the family in favour of an artificial high.

Blackburn can be seen as an example of what is going on in other Asian communities throughout the country. Asians make up about one-quarter of the town's 100,000 population, with about equal numbers of people moving there from India and Pakistan in the Sixties.

Almost the entire Asian population in Blackburn are Muslims and studded among the streets and rows of terrace houses are 24 mosques.

The town's Asian community has a reputation for being several years behind the times compared with their "trendier" Asian neighbours in nearby Manchester and Bradford. Large parts of the east Lancashire town are deprived, with poor housing, low wages and unemployment - in short, the sort of place in which drug abuse traditionally thrives.

But while drug use has been commonplace among the town's white youths for more than a decade, until the mid-Nineties it was almost unheard of among their Asian neighbours.

Strong family ties, with the larger community keeping an eye on the activities of its young members, combined with the strict anti-alcohol and anti-drugs rules within Islamic law, were credited with keeping Asian youth relatively drug free. But a sea change is taking place with the erosion of traditional ties, the growing influence of Western culture, a larger proportion of young men and the greater availability of drugs.

Chief Inspector Andrew Pratt, of Lancashire police, has been carrying out a study into drug use among the Asian community of Blackburn.

He found that in the year up to April 1994, just 17 Asian people were arrested for drug offences in Blackburn. This figure has risen every year to 64 in 1998-99. Almost all the people involved are men aged from 16 to 25. Young white men still account for about 80 per cent of the drug arrests.

Chief Inspector Pratt estimates that about 80 per cent of the Asian drug users smoke cannabis, 12 per cent are on heroin, and 8 per cent amphetamines, ecstasy and crack cocaine. Almost all the heroin is "chased" - inhaled after being heated on a piece of tin foil - rather than injected.

"The price of drugs in this town is cheap. For heroin it's mainly £10 wraps, but it's been £5 a wrap," the officer said. "The strong religious values and close-knit communities and families appear to have helped keep drug use at bay, whereas in the white community it has been rife for the past 10 years.

"But as these factors start to break down, the temptation for young Asian men to take drugs is becoming greater. We are not talking about an epidemic, but it is becoming a regular occurrence."

Chief Inspector Pratt points to the high proportion of young men - who are the group most likely to take drugs - in the Asian community as being another important factor.

He carried out analysis of the figures and believes that the rise in drug arrests is a genuine one rather than merely a result of a police crackdown or extra searches on Asian youths. Nationally, the British Crime Survey - considered the most accurate study of offender behaviour - found that 30 per cent of the white population said they had used drugs, compared with 14 per cent of the Asian population.

The Council of Mosques in Blackburn has teamed up with the police and is now includinganti-drugs lessons at some of the Islamic schools attached to the mosques.

Some young Muslims have argued that because the Korandoes not specifically mention drug abuse, it is more acceptable than drinking alcohol, which is outlawed by name.

Religious leaders, however, have been stressing that all substances that harm the body are against the laws of Islam. A series of anti-drugs fact sheets have also been distributed in the Asian community.

The Lifelife East Lancashire drugs information service in Blackburn has also recently employed a full-time Asian worker and has just been awarded £450,000 National Lottery grant to employ more Asian outreach advisers in the region.

Tony Wilkinson, of the Blackburn Arrest Referral Scheme, is concerned that many Asian drug users are deterred from seeking help. "It appears that many young Asians are fearful of recrimination by their family and of the potential backlash against their family by the wider community," he said.

Out on the cold streets of Bradford last Thursday, a 16-year-old boy among a clutch of Asian teenagers thought that the explanation for the rise in use of drugs was much simpler. "Drugs are everywhere now - it's just society, isn't it?"

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