The new drugs replacing cocaine among London’s drug-abusing professionals

This article originally appeared on on 21/02/2012


Once upon a time cocaine laced every other cubicle in London. Is that still the case?

Lara* had been at the fundraiser for almost three quarters of an hour when she got the text. On either side of her sat the A-listers she’d somehow managed to shoehorn into supporting her event. A real coup for both her and the company she worked for.

She hesitated only a moment before making her excuses and slipping out to meet a client on a back street around the corner from the venue. She was in the City – luckily there were plenty of back streets. She met her client for about four minutes, apologising profusely for being in such a rush. She would repeat the exercise about five times that evening.

Alongside her day job as an events manager, for which she earns a £30,000 salary, Lara is a ketamine dealer. The clients she was popping out to meet that night were ketamine users.

Lara went to a red brick university. She loves asparagus. She wouldn’t do ketamine in the workplace, though, choosing instead a stimulant like mephedrone, otherwise known as MCAT or, if you’re a Daily Mail reader, miaow miaow.

Lara isn’t an exception. Be it cocaine or mephedrone, the London workplace is awash with drugs. The government is losing the war.

Ten years ago, research by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) put the cost of problems caused by drugs and alcohol misuse in the workplace at £800m. It is thought that since 2002, drug taking in Britain has increased. Indeed, the CMI hinted at a rise even then, with 16 per cent of managers saying that drugs misuse had increased.

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Drugs in the workplace: the rise of ketamine
In November last year, and ComRes conducted its own survey of 500 London mid-managers. The poll revealed one in 10 London managers actively take drugs in the workplace.

For 21 per cent of those users, the reason they do so is because their boss does.

While cannabis and cocaine were the most popular choices of drugs used at work or at a work social event (40 per cent of users admitted to using cocaine), ketamine came sixth place, closely behind MDMA; 10 per cent of users admitted to taking ketamine.

In London today, ketamine is in short supply. My source, let’s call him Joel, is a charming 29-year-old with great abs. He’s just come from the gym. Tonight he’s off to see the new West End play that everyone’s raving about.

There’s been a crackdown on production in India, which is a major source for the drug, he explains. Classified as a class C substance, ketamine is used in both humans and animals as an anaesthetic and indices a state known as dissociative aesthesia. The translates to a sedative, downer type high which if taken in high enough quantities can make users trip, sometimes to the extent they enter what is known as a K-hole. Not very conducive to work – unless, that is, if you work in the creative industries.

About four or five years ago a gang of well-educated graduates lounged on a beach in Goa. They were there for the culture, the sun, the food and the ketamine. Since that time members of said gang have gone on to run major public events, curating weird and wonderful themes, and have written hit TV sitcoms – one of the biggest in the last 10 years in fact, which you definitely would have heard of. Some still partake in ketamine, if to a lesser degree – it helps them unwind.

Beyond ketamine: the new designer drugs sweeping London’s workforce

So with London in the throes of a ketamine drought, what is the answer? Joel explains that there’s a new kid on the block now. Nobody’s really sure what it’s called, but they think it could be methoxetamine, a slight variant on the chemical structure of ketamine. It still has the dissociative side effects but without the same intensity, he says. It’s also hoped, although is as yet unconfimed, that methoxetamine won’t cause the same bladder malfunctions that ketamine can cause.

This remaking of drugs is of course what drives the drug squads so crazy. No sooner is a drug made illegal when chemists find a new way or producing the drug with a substitute component.

This onslaught of readily available drugs had become a major worry to employers. In 2007, the City of London Corporation published a report titled Tackling alcohol and drugs in the workplace. Its research found that 22 per cent of London businesses reported absenteeism as a direct result of drug abuse.

Only a few months ago published The City’s toxic new drug trends, an expose of drug abuse in the City. The feature highlights the prevalent use of drugs such as GHB among City boys.

Interestingly, the 2007 City of London report cites ecstasy, cannabis, alcohol, cocaine and heroin as substances to watch out for, but neglects new kids on the block like GHB.

There’s a whole host of other substances not listed in fact. These include 2CI, 2CB, 2CE, GBL, GBH, mephedrone, ketamine, methamphetamine, speed, crack and opium – all of which are increasingly commonplace in London. With these designer drugs creating hybrid-like mix and match highs (2CI, 2CB and 2CE are said to replicate acid-type trips but without the same intensity, or for the same period of time), those with demanding jobs can achieve shorter highs with shorter comedowns.

It is easier than ever to be a drug user, says Joel. Traditionally “white” industries like advertising may no longer be awash with cocaine, but their workers are still at it – it’s just not called cocaine.

* All names were changed for this article

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