Cocaine prices hit £10
Alarm as plunging street cost attracts young users
Ulster's market for cocaine has plumbed new depths with a lethal 'economy' brand available for as little as £10.
The deadly drug is now readily available, with growing evidence that the budget prices are attracting younger users.
Cocaine with a purity of as little as 2% - which means it is more heavily cut - is being sold by dealers who can now target the young, students and those on a low income.
On arrival in Northern Ireland purity levels of cocaine are believed to be around 50% to 60%. Once it hits the streets the average purity is around 34%.
However, the highly addictive drug is now being cut down even further to both increase profits and attract those who would not normally be able to afford it.
The powder is being bulked up with substances like rat poison, pain relievers, local anaesthetic, talcum powder and caffeine.
"Today prices have fallen and cocaine reaches a wider market," the head of the PSNI's Crime Operations Drug Squad, Detective Superintendent Hayden Bell, told the Belfast Telegraph.
"Added to that we have many more involved in the supply chain who make a profit by cutting the cocaine, thus reducing purity levels. Cocaine purity levels vary from as low as 2% to much higher depending on by whom and where it is sold.
"One could therefore argue that there is a two, four, six, eight, 10-tier market depending on where you buy your product," he added.
Users are paying an average of £40 to £50 for a gramme of cocaine. But a security source told the Belfast Telegraph that wraps of the drug are being sold in parts of Belfast for as little as £10.
Medical staff and community workers have also said they are encountering an increasing number of younger users.
Chief executive of the Health Promotions Agency, Dr Brian Gaffney, said: " It is important to highlight that drugs are often mixed with other additives which in themselves can have serious health implications."
There has been a 20-fold increase in cocaine seizures in the province within a six-year period, according to police statistics.