Narcomania: How Britain Got Hooked On Drugs, released earlier this month, is a book that explores the drug industry in Britain, not as the shady 'other world' you see depicted on cop shows but as a huge, interconnected network that touches all corners of our lives.
Here, authors Max Daly and Steve Simpson shared ten things that surprised them about the topic in the course of researching and writing what the Observer has called a 'startingly brave' as well as 'sober and well-researched' book.
1 | Where you live often depends on what drugs you take
Although Britain is an island, we found that it is home to a variety of different drug zones, influenced by local tastes and supply routes. In Bristol and Bath, ketamine is a popular drug, while crystal meth is mainly limited to small cliques in London, Manchester and Brighton. Crack is not big in York, Glasgow or Newcastle, because organized criminals there do not dominate the drug’s supply.
2 | Hotels are five star drug dens
Where Britain’s street markets offer the most stereotypical view of the UK drug market as one of crime and desperation, we discovered teams of elite dealers who specialised in servicing super-rich clients who rent out expensive four-star hotel suits to take drugs and have sex with escort girls. Managers of some of the country’s top hotels turn a blind eye to this trade because they do not want to lose lucrative business.
3 | Drug dealing isn’t easy
Having spent many months interviewing street dealers, middle market brokers and commercial cannabis cultivators we found that that while on paper the drug industry appears a sure money-spinner, staying ahead in such a competitive, violent and obviously illegal market isn’t easy. To succeed you need to be both mentally and physically tough. The role is best summed up by Marco, a self-made narco-entrepreneur, who said he lived the life of heavyweight boxing champ “who could lose his title at any time”.
4 | The days of the drug trade Mr Bigs are numbered
From the start of the modern drug trade in the 1980s, our narco-economy was overseen by a small but influential group of big players from around the country who bossed supply lines coming into Britain. Now old school family syndicates have been superseded by a new generation of multi-cultural and inter-linked entrepreneurial Mr Middles who have access to supply lines and are able to blend into mainstream society.
5 | In some parts of the country police have been told to avoid arresting dealers after 3pm
The battle between the drug gangs and the police is a woefully uneven one in terms of resources. In an age of austerity, some police drug teams have been told to avoid late afternoon arrests, because they cannot afford the lengthy overtime involved. Forces admit they now target visible, low-level drug dealers because more painstaking intelligence operations are too costly.
6 | Crack professionalized the drug trade
Cocaine and crack revolutionised British drug markets in the 1980s - bringing unprecedented profits that made even the sleepiest rural drug markets a target for mobile gangs ‘going country’. Where once drug markets and drug crime were cooped up in zones of decay and unemployment, this professionalized trade now forms the backdrop of everyday life in former seaside resorts and towns of middle England.
7 | The City is a major link in the global drug trade
London’s financial district holds dual status with Wall Street as the world’s money laundering capital. In the nineteenth century, the nation’s coffers were filled with the money made by smuggling illegal opium into China under the auspices of the government-backed East India Company. In 2012 HSBC, Britain’s largest bank, was hit with a colossal fine after it was discovered that Mexican drug lords had laundered billions of dollars through its US arm.
8 | Politicians and police can only openly discuss drug policy when they have no power
Few areas of policy are so influenced by the media. As soon as politicians gain a position of power, any previous controversial views they may have held on drugs vanish. As if by magic, this ‘omerta’ is lifted when they return to the backbenches or retire and are able once again to speak their mind. The same can be said of many retired police chiefs.
9 | Drug dealers outside the school gates is an urban myth
Fuelled by age-old myths which have it that all drug sellers are ‘evil’ predators who entice school kids with cheap drugs, the government created a law to target the school gate pushers. This belies a basic misunderstanding of why people sell drugs (to make money, not to corrupt penniless children) and unsurprisingly, there are no records of an adult being convicted for selling drugs outside a school.
10 | The drug trade is not an underworld but an ‘overworld’
In writing this book, we discovered that the modern drug trade operates largely from within, rather than from the outside. Far from existing in a shadowy world distant from our own, it is deeply embedded throughout society, from council estates and high streets to the corporate world and beyond. That is why it has remained resilient and been capable of adapting to change. As a result, in whichever shape or form, the drug trade is here to stay.