Stacey Jordan still wonders whether she could have done more to save her sister.
Lucy White was just 24 when she died in hospital in summer 2018 after a line of cocaine triggered a heart attack and then a coma.
Lucy, a student from Bristol, had been introduced to cocaine by her mother, a long-term drug user – but Stacey had managed to get Lucy clean, before she relapsed, a few months before her death.
When Stacey got to the hospital she found her sister, almost unrecognisable.
“I should have been more strict,” she says 18-months on. “You look back now and you’re like, ‘She was hiding from me. She was avoiding me for a reason.’
“But could I see it? Maybe not. Did I want to see it? That’s maybe the question.”
Figures compiled for BBC News by NHS Digital show Lucy’s story is far from unusual, with record levels of cocaine use putting increasing pressure on the NHS in England.
The figures indicate:
- a 76% increase in hospital admissions caused by cocaine since 2014-15
- a 70% rise in admissions due to mental disorders linked to cocaine use
- people aged 30-39 have seen the largest increase in admissions
- the area with the highest admission rates is Merseyside
Lewis, a 25-year-old from the Midlands, also suffered a heart attack after a line of cocaine.
“My friend’s a nurse and she was taking my pulse and she’s whispering, ‘Call an ambulance.’ My heart is pounding out of my chest.”
He had taken the drug numerous times before but on this occasion it reacted badly with his system and he needed medical treatment.
He recovered fully and his cocaine use, which he admits once used to cost him £200 to £300 a week, has dramatically reduced in the past year.
“It wasn’t making me happy at all,” says Lewis of his drug habit. “It’s the worst paranoia I’ve had in my life.
“I’d be sat by my window, a car would pull up and I’d be looking over my shoulder. I’d fear my girlfriend was cheating on me.”
The increased need for the NHS to treat cocaine users comes as the number of people dying after taking the drug hits record levels.
Since 2015, cocaine-related deaths have tripled in Scotland and doubled in England and Wales.
Cocaine in Britain is purer, more available and consumed more widely than ever before.
“From the age of 15 we’ve supported people to try to help them address their cocaine use,” says Eddie Buggy, a drugs worker in Hamilton, Lanarkshire, with the drug charity Addaction.
“It’s easier to buy than alcohol, you don’t have to go into a shop.
“You can use digital platforms to get it which young people are very familiar with – Snapchat, Whatsapp, stuff like that.”
‘Destroyed my career’
The increased availability is driven in part by dealers marketing more widely a drug once seen as mainly for rich people.
Several strands with different levels of purity are now sold, costing anything from £100 a gram down to as little as £30 a gram.
The sheer amount of cocaine in Lanarkshire, indeed across Scotland, has led to Hamilton Academical Football Club taking a leading role in warning teenagers of the dangers of drug abuse.
The club’s chief executive, Colin McGowan, himself a former drug and alcohol addict, has set up an anti-addiction charity, which goes into local schools educating youngsters.
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On a recent Friday, Colin gave a talk at Our Lady’s High School in Motherwell accompanied by Colin McNair, a former professional footballer with Hearts, Falkirk and Motherwell whose life spiralled out of control and ended up in prison after he took a line of cocaine in his early 20s.
“People who are not into drugs can’t understand it, ‘You actually threw all that away?'” he says.
“I didn’t throw it away. When you are caught up in addiction, your choices are taken from you.
“That’s how strong and powerful cocaine is.”