‘Unprecedented’ purity levels for heroin, cocaine and ecstasy

Heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine and MDMA are now being sold at ‘unprecedented’ levels of purity, according to the latest DrugWise survey of the UK’s street drugs market. This confirms a trend of rising purity levels detected since 2014, says Highways and buyways: a snapshot of UK drug scenes 2016, which is based on interviews with police officers, treatment staff and researchers from more than 30 organisations across the country.

While heroin purity had reached 40 per cent three years ago, following the ‘drought’ of 2010, purity levels of up to 60 per cent are now being quoted, the document states, with drug tests also ‘regularly’ reporting ecstasy pills containing MDMA doses of 150mg and above.

The document adds that while the ‘primary aims’ of last year’s controversial Psychoactive Substances Act (DDN, June 2016, page 4) had been achieved – closing ‘head shops’ and putting an end to the ‘legal cat and mouse game’ whereby chemists would simply tweak the formula each time a drug was banned – synthetic cannabinoids have now become firmly established as street drugs in some areas, causing ‘continuing problems for vulnerable groups’ like rough sleepers and prisoners. ‘‘Spice’’ is being added to the menu of multi-commodity dealers who trade in heroin and crack,’ says the document, which also found reports of people ‘self-medicating’ with heroin to counter the effects of the synthetic cannabinoids.

The report also finds further evidence of the shifting nature of drug distribution – with inner city dealers taking over dealing networks in new areas – and continuing ‘significant’ non-medical use of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Treatment staff also reported increasing numbers of people presenting with cannabis as their primary drug problem, it says.

‘The title of the report reflects the very diverse nature of non-medical and recreational drug use in the UK,’ said DrugWise director Harry Shapiro. ‘Spice as a street drug adds another layer of complexity and is a concern, especially as the numbers of those rough sleeping continue to rise. But some of those interviewed thought that once former stocks of head shop spice sold onto the streets were exhausted, the bad reputation earned by spice might see use diminish.

‘Other concerns are the strength of some street drugs which interviewees ascribed mainly to drug gangs competing for customers while fuelling the recent rise in drug-related deaths and also the huge amount of opiate painkillers and tranquillisers in circulation both from legitimate medical and illicit sources,’ he continued. ‘All of which underlines the need to retain investment in drug treatment and mental health capacity, allowing the creation of new services to meet the challenges of an ever-changing drug market.’

Report at www.drugwise.org.uk