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Priory sees spike in cocaine addiction, with inquiries about treatment doubling in a year

  • Priory data shows a 100% rise in those inquiring about private treatment for cocaine addiction in the year to June 2021
  • Consultant psychiatrists specialising in addictions warn cocaine use is becoming ‘normalised’
  • National statistics also show explosion in cocaine use in recent years, with a rise in cocaine-related deaths
  • The numbers contacting Priory for help rose to from 278 to 556 in 12 months
  • Dr Niall Campbell says: “We see lives totally devastated by it”

The number of people contacting the Priory for help with cocaine addiction has doubled. Enquiries about private treatment surged 100% between June 2020-2021 (up from 278 to 556). While the Priory, like other health providers, saw a dip in patient enquiries during periods of lockdown, as people avoided face-to-face contact, the rise mirrors concerns expressed by health experts that cocaine use is becoming far more commonplace.

Dr Anshul Swami, a consultant psychiatrist based at Priory’s North London hospital, says restrictions linked to Covid-19 played a part in the rise in cocaine users; “Stress and isolation has led to more people leaning on cocaine,” he said.

But even before the pandemic, the number of enquiries Priory received was rising steeply.

The surge in enquiries to Priory’s rehabilitation services underlines official figures. Powder cocaine use was four times more prevalent last year than in 1995, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Powder cocaine was the second most commonly used drug in the last year among people aged 16-59. Dr Swami says; “It’s a drug often associated with professionals and those that come from an affluent background, but actually it’s prevalent across all social groups.

“Cocaine has got a lot cheaper over the years, it’s now one of the cheapest and most available drugs,” he says. “Previously people would use cocaine on the weekends, recreationally, but it has now shifted to daily use. Like anything that gets cheaper and more available, it’s used by more and more people. It has become more normalised.”

The ONS recorded that last year 777 deaths involved cocaine, roughly 10% more than in 2019, and more than four times the 2010 figure. The 777 cocaine deaths were 69 up on 2019 numbers and compare with 112 recorded in 2011 – a point when the economic downturn was at its deepest following the 2008 bank collapse.

Priory consultant psychiatrist Dr Niall Campbell, a UK drug addiction expert at the Priory’s Roehampton Hospital in south-west London, said: “Cocaine use is prevalent across classes and used by all levels of society. It poses a significant challenge to our health system. People want an instant anti-depressant, and they think cocaine is it, but it absolutely isn’t. We see lives totally wrecked by it.

“Increased use is partly linked to the stresses of modern living and the pandemic. People either have two jobs or no job, so they become exhausted and get depressed and some people now working from home find their relationships with their families have become increasingly fractious; that’s often when they use cocaine. They want to keep using it because of the highs, and then need to keep using it because of the ‘downers’, so cocaine leads to serious addictions, leading people to come to places like the Priory for help. People may start taking it socially and then doing it on their own and it just spirals; their life turns into a car crash. Cocaine can be delivered to the door as fast as a pizza.

“People will often have ‘euphoric recall’ about their pre-lockdown drinking or drug use, and now feel the need to be even more intoxicated, or behave more recklessly. People think it’s victimless, which the drug trade absolutely isn’t - they care more about where their coffee comes from than where their cocaine comes from.”

 

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About Priory Group

 The Priory Group is the leading provider of behavioural care in the UK, caring for around 30,000 people a year for conditions including depression, anxiety, drugs and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and self-harming. The Group is organised into two divisions – healthcare and adult care.

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