Scotland tops world cocaine use

By Reevel Alderson
Home affairs correspondent, BBC Scotland

image captionThe Scottish government said levels of cocaine use had been falling

Scotland has again topped the world league for cocaine consumption.

Figures published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) show 3.9% of Scottish residents aged between 16 and 64 used the drug in the past year.

That was a higher proportion than in any other country and compares to 2.5% for England and Wales.

The figures also showed Scotland with a rate of heroin use twice that of the rest of the United Kingdom.

The UN's annual World Drug Report was published in New York as part of the organisation's attempt to understand the transnational nature of the drug trade which, it says, requires to be tackled globally.

Among the statistics is an analysis of each country, with Scotland shown as having the world's highest percentage of people using cocaine at 3.9%.

The equivalent figure for the United States was 2.4%.

The figures also suggested Scotland had the highest rates of consumption of heroin (1.59%), cannabis (8.4%), amphetamines (1.4%) and ecstasy (2.5%) of all nations in the UK.

Drug awareness charities said cocaine had replaced ecstasy as the most-used "party drug" in Scotland.

John Arthur, the manager of Crew 2000 in Edinburgh, admitted the use of cocaine and other psychostimulants was "very high" in Scotland.

He said: "Our work with professionals such as social services, educational workers and medical staff around cocaine consistently report high levels of use amongst their service users as well as within their own social circles.

"This suggests suggests cocaine use has become normalised in most sections of society."

The Scottish government has urged caution when reviewing the figures, which it said were taken from a household survey carried out in 2007.

It said more recent Scottish Crime and Justice surveys showed a decrease in cocaine prevalence in Scotland, with figures of 2.7% in 2008/09 and 2.1% in 2009/10.

But a spokesperson said: "The risks to health of individuals and communities who use cocaine are as serious as they are significant.

"That's why the Scottish government has taken action to raise awareness of the risks."

In November 2010, it launched its latest cocaine campaign aimed at 18-24 year olds, using cinema and online advertising and holding cocaine awareness weekends in bars and clubs across Scotland.

The Labour MSP for South Scotland, Graeme Pearson, a former director of the Scottish Drugs and Crime Enforcement Agency, said the figures showed a rethink on drugs policing was needed.

He said: "The upsurge in cocaine use began about five or six years ago.

"Although a new strategy was launched four years ago, it has not brought about a downturn in the use of drugs."

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