Growing numbers of children and young adults are seeking help for cocaine addiction, a report by a leading drugs charity said today.
DrugScope’s annual poll of drug workers across the UK also revealed that dealers have begun offering "luxury" and "economy" cocaine, putting the drug within reach of younger people such as students and others on low incomes.
The economy version, at about #30 a gram, is more heavily adulterated with additives while the higher quality grade, at #50 a gram, is offered to more affluent customers.
Anecdotal evidence from the survey of 80 drug services in 20 towns and cities showed younger and younger people are asking for help with a cocaine problem.
A DrugScope spokeswoman said: "One of the things that came up over and over again was that the age of cocaine use amongst clients was going down.
"We are not claiming that there has been a massive increase in cocaine use, but we are worried that there appear to be some young people abusing cocaine alongside other substances such as cannabis, Ecstasy and alcohol."
A worker at a Manchester drugs charity told the survey: "We are seeing the age of first use and of problem use dropping. The proliferation of cocaine is going mental.
"We are seeing many young people start using at 15 and getting into problems when they are 18."
The 2007 Street Drug Trends poll claimed that cocaine use was no longer restricted to the rich, but at the same time the drug has not completely lost the "glamorous" associations of the past.
The spokeswoman said: "Many users appear unconcerned by the drug’s class A status and do not associate the drug with its serious health risks that include heart problems, mental ill health and the potential for dependency."
Today’s survey, published in DrugScope’s magazine Druglink, said there was also a two-tier market for other illegal substances.
The price of Ecstasy pills has slumped to an average of #2.40 each with some often containing no MDMA - the active ingredient of Ecstasy - instead being made of amphetamine, it said.
In response, more users are paying extra for the crystal or powder forms of MDMA at an average price of #38 a gram, or turning to the hallucinogen ketamine, best known as a horse tranquilliser, it added.
In Birmingham it was reported that crystal and powder MDMA now make up just over a third of the market compared with 5% just 10 years ago.
The price of most drugs has remained stable but the cost of heroin fell again this year, amounting to a slump of #10 a gram since 2004, to just #43.
DrugScope chief executive Martin Barnes said: "We do not wish to exaggerate the extent of cocaine use but our survey does reveal some worrying trends.
"The use among young people, the drug’s affordability and the combination with alcohol and other drugs is clearly a concern.
"There is little if any evidence that current efforts to tackle supply are impacting on the availability and price of cocaine - indeed, dealers are able to meet the demands of different users by creating a two-tier market.
"One of the reasons why crystal meth remains relatively rare in the UK may be because there is such an established and profitable market for cocaine."
He added: "We are concerned that we may be entering a new era of ’problem drug use’ relating less to heroin and crack and more to the misuse of alcohol, cocaine, cannabis and Ecstasy.
"The longer term public health impacts of such a shift should not be underestimated."
Druglink magazine contacted 80 voluntary drug and alcohol services, drug action teams and police forces in Belfast, Birmingham, Blackpool, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Gloucester, Ipswich, Liverpool, London, Luton, Manchester, Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Nottingham, Penzance, Portsmouth, Sheffield, Torquay and York.