The number of annual deaths from cocaine in Wales was in the single figures until 2021 and 2022, when the figure suddenly rocketed to 47.
Once the drug of choice for high-flying business people, cocaine’s appeal is expanding across class divides due to its low cost and high availability.
According to The Economist, police seized 5.5 tonnes of cocaine in the UK in 2016 — twice as much as what was found in 2010, less than 10 years earlier.
The boom in cocaine use in the UK is thought to be caused by many factors: the closure of local nightlife leading to cheaper nights in at home, the loss of jobs, pandemic lockdowns, lack of mental health services and the rising cost of living.
Charities are calling for an urgent rethink of drug strategies in Wales, after the record number of drug-related fatalities.
Martin Blakebrough, from the drug charity Kaleidoscope, told the BBC drugs need to be treated as a “public health issue” in Wales, “reducing the stigma of criminalising everyone who has a drug issue”.
A UK-wide problem
The rise in cocaine use has also been witnessed outside of Wales, too, with Rehab UK reporting that, out of all the drug-related enquiries they receive, cocaine use accounts for almost 75%.
They also share that cocaine-related deaths have increased for the 10th year running, up to 840 in England and Wales.
“It’s so prevalent now and it’s so easy to get hold of,” one expert, who wasn’t named, told the Manchester Evening News.
The problem isn’t helped by its prevalence in nightlife culture, they say. “People will be having a drink and will have a number on their phone and say: ‘I’ll just get a cheeky gram as well – why not?’”
It seems that young men in particular are getting hooked on the drug, with the typical age range of drug-related enquiries for cocaine use at Rehab UK being between 25-35, 75% men and 25% women.
In fact, according to a 2018 report, the UK had the highest number of young adults taking cocaine than anywhere else in Europe.
With cocaine being so popular with Gen-Z and millennials, many young people, and men in particular, are taking to TikTok to share their stories of addiction, and how easily recreational cocaine use quickly took over their lives.
Ryan Hamblett shared how he started using it once every month or so, or for a “special occasion”, and then it “slipped into every few weeks, every week, then a couple of times a week” until it got to the point where he couldn’t have a night out without it.
He said it was a slippery slope and it quickly got on top of him: “The consequences are bad. You don’t realise the debts, the mental health suffering, the wrong type of people you hang about with…”
Others shared how they were also struggling. “I’ve still not found a way to drink without it,” admitted one person in the comments section.
Another added: “I’ve been clean for almost three years and I’m still struggling to stay away. I’m struggling a lot right now.”
What are the health consequences of cocaine?
According to intensive care consultant Dr David Hepburn, from The Grange University Hospital in Cwmbran, Wales, the impact of regular cocaine use can go beyond the mental health effects.
“We have had a few examples of people coming in who have had cardiac events,” he told The Manchester Evening News.
“They have normal coronary arteries but the drug causes spasms in these arteries, which reduces blood flow to the muscle in a similar way that happens in a heart attack.”
The NHS also include mood swings, heart damage, poor sleep, impotence and malnutrition among the common long-term conditions that can arise from regular cocaine use.
What’s the solution?
One proposal being suggested is drug decriminalisation. New guidance being drawn up by the National Police Chiefs’ Council in the UK aims to treat the issue of illegal substance abuse as a public health problem.
The proposal would see drugs like cannabis and cocaine decriminalised, and those who previously would’ve been prosecuted would instead be offered addiction services and schemes to reduce re-offending.
This type of system has worked in other parts of the world, like Portugal, where they’ve seen a dramatic drop in overdoses, deaths and drug-related crime.
With some experts believing the UK’s war on drugs has been a huge failure, this scheme could be the way forward in reducing deaths and providing safe use of drugs.
Help and support:
- If you’re having issues with drug dependency, the NHS recommends speaking to your GP, or you can find a local drugs support programme near you.
- Contact FRANK on 0300 123 6600 or visit the website for alternative contact methods.