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How is the UK fast becoming the biggest consumer of cocaine in Europe?

Amid reports that the UK is 'fast becoming the biggest consumer of cocaine in Europe' according to security minister Ben Wallace, and it can be delivered faster than takeout pizza in England and Scotland, Priory addiction specialist Dr Niall Campbell, talks about the devastation he sees among cocaine addicts.

For those of us working on the frontline treating cocaine addicts, this news comes as little surprise. Cocaine will arrive quicker than your calzone. The ease with which people can obtain cocaine, especially in the capital, is frightening. It's fuelled by social media and ease of access to the unregulated areas of the internet.

The devastating effects of cocaine addiction

At Priory, I see people from all levels of society destroyed by cocaine addiction. It has become so prevalent that while some people go out and buy it, others do just get it delivered to their door.

I've seen people of all ages taking cocaine. People start taking it socially and then do it on their own and it just spirals. Their life turns into a car crash. I have also noticed an alarming number of cocaine-induced, severe paranoid states requiring admission to hospital. Unfortunately, as I say to patients, this paranoia might not be controlled by anti-psychotic medication and may become a permanent state.

So it's not just young people who take cocaine. Older people who started out smoking weed and doing amphetamines have moved onto this. People are doing this for a variety of reasons. Everybody wants to try the thing the 'beautiful people' are trying. People have used other drugs in earlier years and then thought 'what's the harm of doing this?'

But there are serious - sometimes fatal - consequences to the heart, and to your mental state.

You can have a cardiac arrest, you can have a stroke, and of course it affects your liver and the way you think and feel emotionally. It's a depressant drug after all.

The irony is that people want an instant anti-depressant, and they think cocaine is it, but it absolutely isn't. I see lives totally wrecked by it. Increased use is partly linked to the stresses of modern day living. People either have two jobs or no job, so people become exhausted working, or looking for work, and get depressed. That's when they use cocaine.

They want to keep using it because of the highs, and then they need to keep using it because of the downs and so cocaine causes serious addiction leading people to come to places like Priory where they can get help.

The impact of the dark net

The 2018 Global Drug Survey states: "With many cities covered with CCTV cameras, traditional street dealing is becoming less attractive to many suppliers and consumers. On the other hand, darknet markets allow drugs to be delivered through your letterbox and the rise of encrypted social media platforms makes ordering relatively safe."

It's no surprise to those of us who see the effects nor to people like Tony Saggers, former head of drug strategy at the National Crime Agency, who recently challenged big businesses to talk about their employees' use of the drug - and I agree.

He wants companies to set up schemes aimed at educating workers about the health risks of cocaine, and the way the proceeds subsidise slavery and trafficking.

Cocaine addiction isn’t the only growing concern

It's not just cocaine addiction I see. I treat an increasing number of patients, often only 18 or so and sometimes just back from a 'gap' year, who are addicted to street drugs but have also developed significant depressive and anxiety disorders.

Distressing panic attacks from stimulants and hallucinogens - synthetic or mushroom-based - are on the increase.

And methamphetamine - often shortened to just 'meth' - is a powerful stimulant. In particular, the crystal form of the drug is extremely addictive. Users feel very alert and awake, but also agitated and paranoid and more likely to take risks. The risks include raised blood pressure and heart rate, which can lead to a heart attack, drug-induced psychosis and brain damage.

If people could spend 10 minutes with the patients I see whose lives have been ruined by drugs, they would think differently. For me, saving those lives is one thing. And it's a good one. But for medical professionals like myself, keeping people away from these despicable drugs - or better still, never experimenting with them in the first place - can seem an elusive goal.

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