Cocaine Overdose Cases Quadruple At Hospitals

The number of cocaine users being admitted to hospital has quadrupled in eight years, it has emerged as concerns grow that it has become the drug of choice for middle-class men.

An average of more than two people a day are admitted to accident and emergency units for “cocaine-induced health emergencies”, official Government data showed.

There were 740 incidents in 2006-07 compared with 161 in 1998-99.

The figures revealed that 85 per cent of the patients were men, with an average age of 29.

In comparison, heroin overdoses and cannabis poisonings both fell in the same period, according to the figures obtained by Druglink magazine.

The statistics expose the scale and impact of cocaine’s growing popularity and come after a series of high-profile cases involving the drug.

Natasha Collins, a children’s television presenter, died in January after bingeing on cocaine and alcohol and falling unconscious in a bath of scalding hot water.

The 31-year-old’s body was found by her fiancé, Mark Speight, also a television presenter, the morning after “partying” with her on cocaine, sleeping pills, wine and vodka.

An inquest heard last week that he committed suicide several weeks later by hanging himself with his shoelaces.

Recent drugs crime surveys have also reported growing use of cocaine among the urban middle classes. One study found one in three young men attending A&E at a London hospital with suspected heart attacks were cocaine users.

When starting his job as head of the Metropolitan Police in 2005, Sir Ian Blair threatened to crack down on middle class users.

In March, a United Nations report criticised “coke-snorting fashionistas” who it claims are encouraging more young people to take the drug.

Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the UN’s drug control and crime prevention office, has described Amy Winehouse, the pop singer, as “the poster girl for drug abuse”. He added that “one song, one picture, one quote that makes cocaine look cool can undo millions of pounds worth of anti-drug education and prevention”.

The report by the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board linked “celebrity endorsement of drug related lifestyles” to the boom in European cocaine consumption and the emergence of the devastation it is now causing in Africa as new drug-smuggling routes open up.

Home Office figures show that use of the drug has more than doubled among 16 to 24-year-olds since the start of the decade, and Britain remains one of the countries with the highest level of cocaine abuse, along with Spain and Italy.

The UN report also partly blamed the police and courts for making matters worse by treating celebrities “leniently” and failing to make an example of them.

Kate Moss, the fashion model, escaped prosecution following the publication of photographs of her allegedly snorting cocaine.

Police admitted that without “forensic” evidence of her being found in possession of the drug it was impossible to prosecute. An internal Scotland Yard police report, which was written after the case, admitted that cocaine abuse was rife in celebrity and modelling circles but sources said it remains “too difficult” to target them.

Graham Norton, the television presenter, said in a magazine interview 18 months ago that he had taken “lots of drugs” including ecstasy and cocaine.

Norton, 45, said: “I think coke is middle-aged stuff. It’s quite a slow drug that involves coffee tables. To me, it’s a middle-class choice of drug.”

His remarks were investigated by the Metropolitan Police but no action was taken. Detectives asked to search the presenter’s house – but as there was no evidence other than his remarks, senior officers refused to let them apply for a warrant.

A police report stated: “There is no evidence to suggest that Mr Norton ever took or even intended to take any illegal drugs.

”It is of our opinion that there should be no action required and that there is no case to answer to.” BBC chiefs defended Norton when he made his remarks and said they had been “aimed at an adult audience”.