LEGALISING cocaine and taking it out of the hands of ‘kitchen table dealers’ could cut a growing number of drugs deaths across Cumbria and the North West, according to campaigners.

Drug use has stolen the lives of almost 1,000 people in Cumbria in less than 20 years, with drug deaths in the area reaching record levels in 2020.

And across the wider region, cocaine was linked to more drugs deaths that year than ever before, according to analysis of the UK's most recent drug poisoning statistics.

Low prices, purer forms and the ease with which people can get their hands on the Class A drug are said to have contributed to a significant rise in cocaine related deaths nationally.

At a recent hearing at Carlisle Magistrates' Court, one lawyer suggested that cocaine is now seen by many as "an essential constituent of a night out".

'It is not worth trying'

In the North West, deaths linked to the drug rose for the tenth consecutive year in 2020, when cocaine was mentioned on 148 death certificates in the region – a record high.

At the inquest of a Cumbrian woman who died from a cocaine overdose in 2020, Dr Nicholas Shaw, assistant coroner for the county, warned: “Cocaine can be instantly lethal - and it’s not worth trying.”

Our analysis found that cocaine accounted for a greater proportion of drug poisoning deaths in 2020 than ever before, though opiates are still responsible for the majority of lives lost in our region.

Once viewed as the province of wealthy drug users, coke is now widely available and cheaper than ever, according to Kieran Appleby, who managed to free himself from its powerful grip.

And according to a recent ONS report, experts agree with the 43-year-old, saying high availability and low prices have contributed to a stark rise in deaths across England and Wales.

Since 1993, 1,144 deaths linked to cocaine have been recorded in the North West – and in more than a quarter of those cases, no other drugs were involved.

Mr Appleby, who says he was a serious user, is among campaigners calling for the legalisation of drugs in an effort to keep people safe and protect them from unscrupulous dealers.

Picture posed by model

He says most people have no idea what is in their drugs, how strong they are or whether they have been cut with other substances.

The dangers of this, he says, are reflected in the mortality statistics.

Mr Appleby said: “I go into a supermarket and can’t pick anything up without being shown what exactly is in it and that should be the case with drugs.

“You should be able to know what you’re taking, what’s in it and how it will affect you.

“Now, people are relying on some average guy in his kitchen mixing drugs and hoping he knows what he’s doing.

“I’d much prefer mine mixed by someone with a chemistry degree in a lab.”

He believes cocaine use is growing and said the drug is easier and cheaper to obtain now than ever before – available on the streets for as little as £10.

A fatal drug

More than 700 deaths linked to cocaine were registered across England and Wales in 2020, according to the most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics.

That is up 10 per cent on the year before and more than five times higher than recorded in 2010.

An ONS report accompanying the latest statistics said the rise is likely to be a direct consequence of an increasing prevalence in cocaine use.

It adds: “Both cocaine and heroin have been reported to have high availability in recent years, with low prices and high purity levels.”

A spokeswoman for charity Humankind said the number of people dying from drug use, including cocaine, was a genuine public health emergency.

She warned cocaine users to minimise risk by not drinking alcohol, staying hydrated and only taking it in the company of trusted people.

READ MORE: Charities warn of the dangers of cocaine... and advise what to do if someone overdoses