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Cocaine and classism

By Olivia Boschung

The Glasgow Guardian unpacks Glasgow’s status as the cocaine capital of the world and its stemming class divide.

Scotland. A picturesque land of babbling brooks, evergreen trees, snowy mountain tops and even snowier noses. According to a 2022 Vice documentary, Scotland is now the cocaine capital of the world, in particular Glasgow, with Scotland having the highest cocaine consumption globally. This is roughly 1.2 grams double the global average. Glasgow is a city divided by wealth, and its residents’ increased consumption of cocaine further illuminates a prevalent class divide within.

Cocaine is a divided drug. Its price point often connotes partying and excess wealth, but in a city as divided as Glasgow, where extreme wealth neighbours extreme poverty, the class divides extend to drug use. Vice focussed on the increased use of cocaine by those in poverty and the substance’s ensuing transition away from being solely a luxury fashion drug.

Although that is not to say that the wealthy do not use cocaine; in 2021 traces were found in the Houses of Parliament, indicating widespread class variety in its consumption. Crucially, the use and harms of the same drug differ depending on the class. 

In Glasgow – the cocaine capital, this disparity is apparent, where cocaine is injected more commonly than heroin. Joe told Vice that he frequently injects cocaine, although he previously used heroin. He injects the drug as this method ensures the substance enters his system quicker. Joe’s addiction is funded by shoplifting and reselling these goods, as £100 of cocaine will only last him 15 to 20 minutes. The injection of cocaine has led to an increase in HIV cases in Glasgow. This problem is one that affects lower-class and homeless users, who are less likely to be able to afford sterile needles. According to Dr Andrew McAuley, a recent study showed that homelessness, as well as injecting drugs, were key factors in the increase of HIV in Glasgow.  The wealthy in Glasgow who use cocaine as a party enhancer more commonly snort the substance, but even if injecting it, they are able to afford sterile equipment, significantly reducing the risk of HIV. The Glasgow Guardian reached out to various students to discuss their relationship to drug use. One anonymous student stated that they mainly took the drug in a club environment and would snort it or rub it on their gums. The way cocaine is consumed when used in a party environment by middle or upper-class people alleviates some of the harms faced by those in lower classes injecting the drug. The class divide of cocaine in Glasgow only furthers the city’s health divide. 

The health divide in Glasgow is extreme, leading to the coining of the term, “Glasgow Effect”. This labels the severe divide in life expectancy according to affluence levels, a phenomenon unique to Glasgow. In Possilpark, a district in Glasgow that boasts significant poverty, the male life expectancy is only 66 years, whilst moving from Drumchapel to the more prosperous Bearsden can increase your life expectancy by 12 years. In 2019, the poorest 10% of men in Glasgow had a life expectancy 15.4 years lower than the wealthiest men, an increase since studies from 2002. 

Evidently, the drug-wealth divide is related. Vice revealed that those in more deprived areas of Scotland are 18 times more likely to suffer a drug-related death than those from wealthier districts. Furthermore, people from impoverished areas are more likely to depend on drugs due to a lack of stability in their lives. Meanwhile, more affluent drug users mainly consume drugs in party settings and retire their drug use when they stop partying. An anonymous student interviewed by The Glasgow Guardian discussed how they only took cocaine recreationally, to enhance techno or house music events or as a stimulant for “big events, like birthdays”. This wealthy, frivolous side of the drug use contracts with Joe’s cocaine usage, as it “keeps him sane” and “keeps him going”. The varied purpose of the drug, as a coping mechanism for some, while as a party drug for the wealthy, makes the recovery process a class issue. 

Increased stability in the lives of wealthier people and using the drug as an enhancement for partying instead of everyday dependency means that half of middle-class addicts quit drugs by 30 without treatment. They can pay for treatment and rehabilitation programmes. Drug addiction is a class issue, with middle and upper-class people finding it easier to combat than lower classes. This means that wealthier addicts are less likely to have long-term impacts from drug use, as well as less likely to overdose; as they have more support and stability, they are more likely to be able to use the drug without harmful implications, thus widening health and lifespan disparity in Glasgow. 

An anonymous student told The Glasgow Guardian they used their wages or their student loan to pay for cocaine. Increased wealth allows users not to have to wager between drugs or basic necessities, especially in the ongoing cost of living crisis. This disparity furthers the wealth division present in Glasgow whilst simultaneously exacerbating the differences in health outcomes for those on opposing sides of the class ladder. Drugs remain a death sentence for some and a fun night out for others.


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Terribly out of context pi3ce of “journalism”, do your homework in future instead of incorrectly regurgitating the findings of a “Vice documentary”, which is hardly a scientific metric