The risks associated with using cocaine are ramping up in the UK, since studies now show that the number of in-patients diagnosed primarily with “mental and behavioural disorders due to use of cocaine” has risen more than 90% since 2014, and the number of mentions of cocaine in hospital attendance records has more than doubled in the same timeframe.
As per the annual Crime Survey for England and Wales, only cannabis is ahead of cocaine on the list of most commonly used drugs, but confusingly, the relatively stable percentage of cocaine users between 16 and 59 (between 1.9% and 2.4%) has only risen slightly in the last four years, which doesn’t seem to reflect the dramatic rise in hospitalizations.
One suggestion for the climbing admission rate is that cocaine’s potency has risen over the last decade, from 25% purity to 80%. Drugwise director Harry Shapiro says, “If there’s more people using stronger coke, then the chances are that more of them will at some point come to grief.”
Also, in 2014, the Serious Crime Bill was published in the UK, which established “new powers to seize, detain and destroy chemical substances suspected of being used as cutting agents for illegal drugs,” and since then, substances used to cut drugs, like benzocaine, have become more expensive and cutting cocaine to dilute its purity has become less popular.
Ed Morrow, drug policy lead at the Royal Society for Public Health, says, “Criminalization acts as a barrier to those whose use has become problematic finding support, while a lack of evidence-based education or harm reduction services means use typically takes place in ignorance of substance strength, content or risk minimization strategies.”
According to policy director at Volteforce and senior chemist at harm reduction organization The Loop, Dr. Henry Fisher says, “The main reasons that people are ending up at hospital is for some kind of transient psychosis or acute toxicity, both of which are significant and challenging things to control.”
Volteforce and The Loop recently published a report, Night Lives, which calls for national drug testing measures across the UK. “Drug safety testing, and other measures to reduce drug-related harms,” says Fisher, “provide an opportunity to educate people and reduce those harms before they occur, rather than having to clear up after the fact.”