“I GREW up in a place so rough we’d call it Beirut – drugs were everywhere but coke was only ever for those who could afford it back then and we all saw it as a hard drug.

“Now you can get it for a tenner and people are using it so casually,” says Kieran Appleby, a man who’s tried every drug but heroin.

Speaking to our investigations editor Joanna Morris about the shocking scale of cocaine deaths, the 43-year-old shared his own experiences as he called for more to be done to save lives – and minds.

“The number of deaths is shocking,” he says, “but I’ve personally seen and experienced more of the issues around the psychological impact it has, the depression, the dependence it can cause.

“More people are using it and it’s cheaper, which doesn’t make sense as the manufacturing process is not, so it has to be that dealers are cutting it with other substances.

“You don’t know what they’re cutting it with and that also means, if you ever end up taking a purer version then your body is not used to it and you’re in danger of overdosing even from the same amount you always take.”

'Dealers are targeting young people'

When he was growing up, cocaine users seemed older – and richer – than they are now.

“It’s a generational shift,” he says, “Coke wasn’t an everyday drug then, but now it’s mainstream.

“Dealers are targeting a younger audience, making it affordable by selling less at once.

“When I was using it, you’d be looking at paying a minimum of £60 for coke but now you can go and buy some easily for £10.

“It’s like it used to be with heroin, they’re selling small amounts to get people through a couple of hours.”

READ MORE: Cocaine deaths are on the rise - but could legal drugs save lives?

When Kieran first used cocaine, he was somewhere “on the fence between being a serious drug user and a normal guy”.

He had a good social life, a well-paid job and a daughter – but he also has an addictive personality.

“I realised in my early 30s what cocaine did to my brain and how it was controlling me,” he says.

“I was getting up and thinking about the drug before my family and before the well-being of my daughter – as soon as I knew that, it was D-Day for me and cocaine.

“I go out now and friends will disappear to the toilets and I can step away because I realise how nasty and manipulative an effect coke has on me.”

'Cocaine should be legalised... and controlled'

Despite his experiences, he’d like to see the drug – along with others – legalised and taxed, so that it can be created by scientists instead of “mixed by some average man in his kitchen”.

And he thinks recreational users should be able to test their drugs safely, that everyone deserves to know exactly what they’re putting into their own bodies.

“Casual users don’t often think about or understand the chemical make-up of what they’re using - cocaine can blindside people, they don’t always realise what effect it’s having on their brain or how dependent they are.

“Often people don’t want to understand anything more about the drug than the high it’ll give them but being able to find out what they’re taking will help to keep people safe.”

Kieran wants to tell recreational users that they’re chasing the wrong high with cocaine, that they’re in danger of missing out on life’s natural endorphins.

“But that’s probably a realisation that only comes with age - I know I can’t tell a 25-year-old that seeing your daughter smile is more of a rush than sniffing cocaine will ever be, because I’ve been there.”

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