Cocaine is now so widely used in Britain it can be found in our drinking water, tests have shown.
Inspections of tap water at four different sites found a metabolised form of the illegal drug, which showed it had already passed through the human body.
The levels were so low that they posed no danger to health, but come as a startling indication of how widespread drug use has become.
Benzoylecgonine, the form of cocaine that is generated once the drug has been processed by the body, was found in tap water at four test sites
Steve Rolles, from the drug policy think tank Transform, told The Sunday Times that the findings were an indication of the scale of the use of the drug in Britain today.
“We have the near highest level of cocaine use in western Europe,” he said.
“It has also been getting cheaper and cheaper at the same time as its use has been going up.”
Cocaine is the only major drug for which use has increased overall since 1996, with its falling price thought to be a major reason for its prevalence.
Now, the drug costs around £40 per gram in Britain, compared to as much as £115 in the U.S..
While in the 1980s and 1990s it was seen as a drug of the wealthy and fashionable, it is now widely taken.
Well-publicised tests in the past have found traces of cocaine on nearly every banknote in circulation, in toilets in the House of Commons and at two thirds of Cambridge colleges.
Sue Pennison, principal inspector at the Drinking Water Inspectorate, said: “The study which looked at “worst case” scenarios is reassuring in that it demonstrated that water treatment was generally very effective in the removal of a number of pharmaceuticals which were detected in untreated river water in trace amounts.
“Only six compounds were detected in treated river water and advice on the results received from Public Health England concluded that exposures for the detected compounds was of the order of thousands of times below the level associated with adverse effects in animals and hundreds of thousands of times below human therapeutic doses.
“The study contributes to the update of national risk assessments of water supplies which is an ongoing activity.”