In fact, the uncomfortable reality is that pre-Coronavirus the UK had the highest level of cocaine use in all of Europe, according to the Home Office. That’s 2.6% of UK adults, and 6% of 16-24 year olds. Cocaine use is at an all-time high largely because, pre-Covid, according to the National Crime Agency, it was the “cheapest it has been since 1990.”
Drugs are far more prolific in the UK than you might think. Even if you abstain, chances are you probably know someone who partakes – either regularly, occasionally at parties, or has maybe even just tried drugs once. That latest government findings show that 1 in 11 adults in the UK have taken drugs – that rises to 1 in 5 16-24 year olds.
Cocaine accounts for 70% of the Class A drugs taken in this country, the second most used drug in the UK after cannabis and it was responsible for 432 deaths in 2018 – causing the drug-related death toll to rise for the sixth year running. Cocaine has slipped from being an elite drug, to one that is readily available in the UK, passed around parties and bars with more frequency than ever before.
It has crept into the social lives of millennials and Gen Z in a way that is rarely openly spoken about. Despite the much-discussed headlines that Gen Z are becoming teetotal, and that millennials love their wellness; around 1.3 million people aged 16-24 took class A drugs in the UK last year alone. You need only look at the meme account @sniff_advisor on instagram for a darkly comic look at the way drug culture among millennials is rife.
So, what happens to these drugs now? Does lockdown mean drugs are off the market? Can dealers still operate when supply chains and international transportation of both goods and people has been thwarted by Covid-19? What happens to addicts at this time? And could lockdown even prove to be the ideal time to quit?
Welcome to the lowdown on drugs under lockdown.
“My dealer is still texting me,” says Mary*, 27, from London, “In fact, he is texting way more than he ever would, and tells me he can drop off while still enforcing social distancing rules.”
Considering there were an estimated 2,917 drug-related deaths in the UK alone last year and nearly 8000 people were admitted to hospital with drug-related disorders (both mental and physical) does she find it odd that a drug dealer is suddenly concerned for her health?
“I mean, massively so, yes!” she tells me, whilst also adding that despite his “major deals” she is not using during lockdown; “It’s ok at a party, sure, but in a pandemic it just seems super reckless and unnecessary.”
Well, let’s look at those drug dealers. After all, as illegal operators, it’s not like they can get furloughed. Whilst UK police say that drug crime has reduced dramatically; going down from 509 incidents in March 2019 to 381 in March 2020 in the West Midlands alone, actual arrests of drug dealers have gone way up.
Because, according to Interpol, drug dealers are coming up with more and more inventive ways to deliver – from dressing up as joggers to posing as food delivery drivers. One friend of mine, said she witnessed a socially-distanced drug drop off happening in the park near where she lives.
“We have also heard countless stories of drug dealers pretending to be joggers and food delivery men,” confirms Harry Shapiro from DrugWise, an evidence-based information portal for drugs and alcohol. “Social media – like Instagram direct messages – are being used to organise pick-ups in more creative and less obvious ways. But for these people, the cost has gone right up, as the major drug operators are struggling to get shipments into the country or even move drugs within countries due to travel restrictions.”
“We’ve obviously seen alcohol sales skyrocket, but people who were used to taking drugs at parties will probably not be picking up at this time,” says Shapiro, explaining that the UK’s homegrown cannabis market has grown as people take up smoking at home. But that’s an anomaly. Other drug use is on the decline: “Sales of ecstasy and MDMA for example, seem less prolific. If you are a casual user, most won’t bother as drugs are so much harder to get right now and the reason for taking them doesn’t exist anymore – unless, of course, you’re an addict.”
While addicts will still want drugs during this time, GLAMOUR spoke to a young professional who is concerned that lockdown is setting them on a path from recreational drug use towards addiction.
Tracee*, 31, from South London, has had a longstanding penchant for cocaine and weed. It started in her uni days and her fast-paced job as a Sales Director in London only further fuelled it.
“I’ve always done coke. I wouldn’t class myself as an addict, I just enjoy to use socially – and so do most of my friends and colleagues,” she says, “Pre-Corona, I worked long, stressful hours so would spend my Thursday and Friday night coked up at bars. I often travelled for sales conferences and everyone would use coke in the evenings as we entertained clients and use it again at the conference to power us through.”
“I never deemed it to be a problem; I classed myself as ‘high-functioning’,” she explains, “When Coronavirus hit, a week before the furlough scheme was announced, I was made redundant with a healthy pay-off. It seemed like the dream at the time but we’re now months into lockdown and I’ve literally been sitting at home alone, bored out of my mind this entire time.”
The stresses associated with lockdown have taken a toll on Tracee…
“Alcohol doesn’t do it for me anymore. I have turned to sporadic cocaine use,” she says, telling me her dealer drops off through her front window, “I can’t find a new job – no one is hiring, especially not in my industry – so I’ve been relying on winnings from online poker ( which used to be a hobby of mine) to bolster my bank balance. In order to stay alert and stay awake late into the night, cocaine has been a saviour. It only dawned on me that it might be getting out of hand when I didn’t sleep for three days and drunk dialled my ex who was so worried he came round and started shouting through my letterbox to check I was alive. I laughed it off but deep down I know it’s not cool. I need a sense of structure back in my life and right now, I can’t see when that will happen.”
Last year there were 268,390 people in the UK in contact with drug or alcohol addiction services, desperate for help. And during lockdown there will still be a demand from users who want to quit.
A spokesperson for Narcotics Anonymous UK told us that normal services are running during lockdown – the main difference is that services are online. “We changed very quickly when lockdown happened,” the spokesperson said. “Within a week of lockdown we had 300 online meetings. We have around 1100 face-to-face meetings weekly in the UK and now 750 of them have gone online. In some cases we have combined 3 or 4 meetings into one.”
“We have them on Zoom and some WhatsApp video and audio meetings going on too,” he says. “We encourage people to show themselves but if they prefer not to show their face that’s fine. I know some people have found it difficult to adjust to online meetings but some have found it easier.”
In fact, the online nature of the meetings may mean that first-time NA users may find it easier to start.
“Going to your very first meeting is extremely stressful and scary,” he says, “It’s such a huge step and I still remember mine, even though it was over 40 years ago. But if your first meeting is online, that may ease the pressure. You don’t even have to leave the house to attend.”
Lockdown has, however, had a positive impact on some millennial drug users such as Lauren*. She’s a 29-year-old corporate lawyer who lives alone in London working long hours in an incredibly stressful role. “I started taking coke at parties every now and then when I was in my teens,” she says. “But it was never serious or regular. It’s my job that has made me a regular user. I literally needed it to stay awake.”
Lauren says she’s been using cocaine at least once a day for the last seven years. “In the back of my mind, I always knew that wasn’t good, I always knew that was unhealthy and that I should stop, but the incessant nature of my job just kept me dependent. I could never break the cycle.”
When lockdown measures were announced Lauren decided to move back in with her parents in rural Cornwall.
“It was hell at first, my body reacted very badly,” she says, “But I have now been clean since mid-March and I am so proud of myself. I am working from home and the hours are still punishing, but literally not being able to get drugs here, has meant I have just had to push through. I have proven to myself that I can exist without it.”
Lauren admits that the real test for her will be when she returns to London, and when socialising begins again.
“To be honest. I’m not sure I want to go back to that,” she says, “This pandemic has changed a lot of things for a lot of people. I have never valued my health more than I do now. I’m not sure I want to put that at risk any more.”