COCAINE-USE among Scots in their late 20s and early 30s has almost doubled in a year, according to a new report that suggests it now appears to be the drug of choice for young professionals.
Across all age groups, use of the class A drug increased slightly, but in the 25-29 age group it almost doubled, from 1.4 per cent to 2.7 per cent of the population. In the 30-34 age group there was also a marked jump, from 1.9 per cent to 2.8 per cent.
The number of teenage cocaine-users dropped over the same period, suggesting that the drug is becoming increasingly tied to lifestyle and income.
And, more worrying for the authorities, is the finding that 96 per cent of all drug-users find it "very easy" or "fairly easy" to get drugs - suggesting that the police are not winning the battle against dealers.
The survey also found that one in 12 Scots were younger than 14 when they first used drugs, with 16 being the average age for first experimenting with them.
The Executive's Scottish Drugs Misuse survey for 2004 showed that 8 per cent of Scots admitted to taking drugs in the last year and 4 per cent to taking drugs in the last month. The most prevalent drug is cannabis, but the most significant shift in use appeared to be with cocaine.
With other parts of the report showing drug-use highest among city residents and among higher-income earners, the survey shows how cocaine appears to be becoming an easily available lifestyle drug for professionals.
Detective Superintendent Gill Wood, of the Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency, said the figures did not coincide with the experience of the police on the ground, but she added that this was probably because urban young professionals did not come "into our radar" as often as more desperate, injecting drug- users.
She said: "The police experience nationally is that cocaine is leaking into the existing drug-injecting population but this is probably indicative of the people we come across. If people are now taking the drug who do not need to break into cars and houses to finance their habit, then they are probably not going to be known to us, whereas the more chaotic injecting population will."
Det Supt Wood also said police were doing all they could to catch drug dealers but more had to be done across all fronts for real progress to be made.
A Scottish Executive spokeswoman stressed the same point, insisting that the police had stepped up action to tackle the dealers at the same time as work was being done to educate children about the dangers of drugs.
Annabel Goldie, the Scottish Tory leader, said: "Cocaine appears to be developing into a recreational drug of a young professional age group. The stark facts suggest to us the situation is getting worse - surely this is all the evidence we need to prove the Executive's 'Know the Score' approach is more harmful than helpful."