There are many routes by which drugs reach the consumer. The cultivation, manufacture and distribution of the drugs we are most familiar with, such as caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceutical products, is open and well documented. But it is the appearance of illegal drugs on the streets of our towns and cities that is often shrouded in mystery.

Drugs which come from plants are imported into Britain from the producer areas sometimes following complex supply routes. Synthetic drugs may be manufactured here or imported from producer countries. The diversion of drugs from legal pharmaceutical and medical sources provides another range of products available through the illicit drugs market.

The heroin trade,

Heroin comes from the opium poppy (papaver somniferum). Up until the late 1970s, most of the heroin that was imported into Britain came from the
  • Golden Triangle
  • which is the region bordering Laos, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and Thailand - see the \P\K3map\kmap\p. En route to western Europe much of this trade went through Hong Kong or Singapore. From this area comes a refined form of heroin, known as Chinese Heroin No 4 or China White. This heroin was mainly used for injecting.

    Over the past twenty years this has been largely replaced by a smokeable form of heroin 'base'. This is the brown powder which is more commonly available on the streets of Britain today. See street heroin. This comes from the area of the so-called
  • Golden Crescent
  • , which borders Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan - see the \P\K3map\kmap\p.

    South American 'coca'.

    Cocaine comes from the coca bush, which grows in the mountainous regions of Colombia and Peru, in South America - see the \P\K2map\kmap\p. Once the cocaine has been extracted from the leaves of the coca bush, it is exported as blocks of compressed white powder to many countries around the world, including Britain. This form of cocaine is usually snorted or injected.


    In the United States a smokeable form of cocaine base - so-called crack cocaine - swept through the east coast cities and its use replaced heroin as the major drug problem in the US in the 1980s. In Britain today cocaine powder is also being converted back to its base form and sold on the streets as crack. In some areas such as Manchester, south London, Bristol and Nottingham, crack use has grown rapidly and there have been violent incidents as rival drug supply gangs have fought to control the illegal drug market. Despite this the UK crack problem although now more widespread, is still small compared either to the US crack problem or our own heroin problem.

    Cannabis - the hardy traveller.

    Cannabis is a hardy plant which grows throughout the world - see the \P\K1map\kmap\p. Its most common form in the UK is that of resin. This is imported usually into Britain from Morocco, Turkey, Lebanon, Pakistan, and the Indian sub-continent. The dried plant from which the resin is derived is also seen in the UK. The dried flowers and tops of the plant - marijuana - comes into the UK from Holland, Jamaica, Colombia, West Africa, South Africa and Thailand, or is grown under lights in the UK.

    Synthetic drugs.

    Some synthetic illegal drugs, such as amphetamine sulphate, are illicitly manufactured here in Britain. Others, such as LSD, ecstasy and some of the so called 'dance drugs' are made either in Europe or the United States and then illegally imported into the UK. There is growing evidence that some of these synthetic drugs are being manufactured in the former communist states of Eastern Europe.

    Diverted drugs.

    Other drugs end up on the streets as a result of being diverted - i.e. stolen or purchased illegally - from pharmaceutical companies, chemist shops, or GP's prescriptions. These include tranquillisers and sleeping tablets - temazepam in particular- and also powerful pain killers such as codeine and diconal. In the past barbiturates were very popular but are rarely seen these days.

    Growing wild.

    There are several species of so called 'Magic mushrooms' which grow wild in the autumn in the UK. There is also an occasional trade in dried mushrooms of this kind.

    Over the counter.

    Many medicines sold over the counter (OTC's) contain mood changing drugs. These include travel sickness preparations containing stimulants and cold cures or cough medicines containing both stimulants and sedatives. Some drug users have learned how to use these OTC medicines sometimes in conjunction with other chemicals in order to maximise the effects.