Everything You Wanted to Know About the UK Drug Scene
After 40 years of fighting the war on drugs, most of the facts have been buried in a nuclear bunker of complete bullshit, so pretty much the only way of getting some rational, adult information about them is by throwing a bunch of chemicals at your brain to see which ones stick and which ones lead to horrible birth defects in your children.
But to save us from some blind traipse into a future of mephedrone children that make those flippered thalidomide babies look like cute, aquatic Pokémon, journo-sleuths Max Daley and Steve Sampson have put their combined 20-odd years of covering the drug trade into a single, definitive guide called Narcomania. It’s full of fun facts on every aspect of the UK drug scene and how it has evolved over the past 30 years, minus all that narc shit you get in tabloids about how smoking weed leads to giving toothless blowjobs.
VICE: OK, first things first, where in the country can you get the best drugs?
Steve Sampson: Ha ha! I think in any major city across the country. Traditionally, drugs were of their highest quality at the port of their entry into the country, so if you lived in Liverpool you would be getting a far greater quality of cocaine or heroin before it got cut and moved down into the regions. In terms of highest quality of drugs, London has always been a great distribution point and one of the wealthiest, you’re going to get your premium quality drugs where people are prepared to pay the highest amount for them. Cannabis is pretty ubiquitous across the country these days with home growing. If you went to any city or any town in this country you can get a high quality of cocaine, it’s whether your budget can allow it.
OK, understood. How pure is your average wrap of pub coke?
Cocaine is mixed to meet people’s pockets these days; a local gram for £40 is likely to be ten percent pure as opposed to 90 percent for a £90 gram. The average gram sold on the street is no more than 20 to 30 percent.
I’m really not surprised by that. How pure is a kilo that comes in from Colombia?
The average purity of cocaine seized at the border is 65 percent. But by the time you get to the streets, which may only be about two stages of remove at most these days, you’re suddenly down to ten percent. That profit is being gargled down within the country these days rather than being fed back to points of supply.
What do drug consumption habits look like regionally—are the Scottish all on smack, is East London a hive of ketamine abuse?
The biggest drug takers are in the northeast and northwest. Ketamine is huge in Bristol and Bath, mephedrone injecting is big in Barnsley and South Wales, crystal meth is mainly limited to London and crack cocaine is rarely sold in Glasgow.
There’s a north/south divide in the way that drugs are taken, possibly. I think there’s a very functional and ubiquitous use up north; a heavy-drinking Scotsman up in Glasgow might take drugs in the way they drink or smoke, while down in London you might have a light salad for lunch and a glass of wine, so there’s a bit of a cultural approach to it.
From what’s written in the book, it’s pretty safe to say that you’re an anomaly if you’re a young person and you’re not taking drugs. What was the tipping point where drugs became so widely acceptable instead of just being a bohemian thing?
I think it’s being recognized by others, but the key thing was the ecstasy era really, because all of a sudden you had millions of people every weekend interacting with the drugs trade like they never had before. That laid the foundation for them to grow into the cocaine generation after that. It was also the time where judges began to see drug users not as addicts but as middle-class kids who use drugs, but were also professionals, consumers and voters. It was the era where recreational drug use became a phrase and entered the language.