Heroin for £10 a bag on Ipswich streets

AS little as £10 can buy an addict a bag of heroin on the streets of Ipswich today.Massive seizures at ports like Felixstowe and Harwich may hit the international drug barons – even remove some of them – but they don't affect prices because too many smuggling operations are successful.

AS little as £10 can buy an addict a bag of heroin on the streets of Ipswich today.

Massive seizures at ports like Felixstowe and Harwich may hit the international drug barons – even remove some of them – but they don't affect prices because too many smuggling operations are successful.

The UK drugs market is flooded with the white powder and drugs counsellors admit is it is becoming increasingly easy to get a hit in Suffolk, despite the best efforts of police and customs officers to stem the tide.

"The price of heroin is fairly static at the moment and has been for some time – £10 to £15 for a bag in Ipswich," said Mags Hollick, youth worker at the Iceni Project, a drug addiction centre.

"Our understanding is that the availability is not decreasing and is probably increasing.

"Opiates are the biggest problem among those who come to us for help. Heroin has the worst reputation among drugs – it's the only drug which is physically addictive and it's the hardest to get off."

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The centre in Woodbridge Road, Ipswich, is desperately searching for new premises because it has reached "saturation point" with those demanding its services – an indication of the size of the area's drug problem.

The dangers of heroin – and also other psychologically addictive drugs – are all too clear.

Lives can be easily ruined as the need for the drugs becomes all-consuming, taking a physical and financial toll – driving people to crime as they try to get the cash to feed their habit.

Few people will forget the photos of 21-year-old heroin addict Rachel Whitear, who died from an overdose. Her mother allowed photos of Rachel, from Exmouth, showing how she died with a syringe in her hand to be published nationwide to show the true horror of the drug,

There are 40,000 registered addicts in the UK, though the real figure could be four times higher.

But the Iceni project is heartened by the number of addicts who want to stop that downward spiral and get their lives back on track as they see more and more crying out to them for help.

"Our ultimate goal is to see someone leave our care and start a new life, drug-free and back on track," said Ms Hollick.

"There is such a stigma attached to drugs an people are treated as second class citizens even though people from all walks of life can become involved."

The centre provides counselling for drug users and group work, and a range of treatments for mind and body, including full body acupuncture for cravings and detoxing, aromatherapy and homeopathic remedies. It also runs a drop-in centre for people to have support when they need it.

Heroin available in Ipswich is unlikely to be pure. Most is on sale is diluted or "cut" usually with glucose, though caffeine, flour, chalk and even talcum powder can be used.

Even though much of the drug is likely to be smuggled through Felixstowe – Britain's biggest boxport – the heroin is normally bound for London, Liverpool or Manchester, where it is cut and then ironically comes back to Ipswich.

DETECTIVES and Customs experts may be winning battles against the drug traffickers, but they know it's a long, probably unending, war.

They work together closely on many operations, sharing intelligence and liaising at the highest levels, and have a "concerted strategy" in place to tackle the supply of heroin from source to the street.

And the battle plan doesn't just start at ports and airports. Customs work worldwide with their colleagues in other countries, swapping information and tracking criminals and consignments as they move around the globe.

Seizures made at Felixstowe are often kept hush-hush for days as extra investigations are made to try to trace those importing the goods in which the drugs are hidden.

The haul is often identified and then allowed to proceed through the port and to its destination, closely followed, to see who claims it from a warehouse.

Not every such case ends with arrests. But knowing that another huge consignment is off the streets – even though it may be the tip of the iceberg – is a success in itself.

Last August saw 30 kilogrammes of heroin worth £2.5m seized at Felixstowe after arriving on a ship in a cargo of car exhausts from Pakistan.

Just three months earlier a total of 14kg of heroin was seized in two separate hauls in Harwich and six months before that 6kg of opium was recovered from vehicles arriving at the port.

Felixstowe was the scene of the largest ever heroin haul in January 2000 when 207kg with a street value of £15 million was found.

Work by police in Suffolk to deal with suppliers of the drug has also been having a marked success.

In October last year, drug addict John O'Mahoney, 29, was given a three year jail sentence for possessing and supplying heroin after being spotted dealing in Bramford Road, Ipswich.

In December 2001 Jamieson Friston, 32, accused of being at the centre of the supply of heroin in Felixstowe, began a seven year jail sentence.

Passing sentence Judge Nicholas Beddard said Friston, of Reedland Way, Felixstowe, was clearly a significant supplier of heroin in Felixstowe who had gone to considerable lengths to distance himself from detection by getting others "to do his dirty work" for him.

Factfile: Heroin

n Heroin is made from the chemical morphine extracted from the opium poppy.

n It was invented in 1874 and used as a safe painkiller until doctors noticed some people quickly became dependent on it.

n The drug, now Class A, was banned in 1925. Today the maximum penalty is seven years' jail for possession and a maximum of life imprisonment for supply.

n Afghanistan is the largest producer of heroin – last year said to have generated 3,400 tonnes – with Burma second, 630 tonnes.

n Heroin has many slang names including brown, skag, smack, H, horse, Harry and junk.

n Users usually inject it into a vein, though some sniff it and other inhale the fumes from heated powder, known as "chasing the dragon".

n Withdrawal symptoms are flu-like and can include aches, sweating, chills, tremors, sneezing and muscle spasms.

n Government figures reckon addicts spend an average of £10,000 a year to fund their habit, many turning to crime to find the money, using more and more heroin just to feel normal.