More than 750,000 people take cocaine at least once a year as its price falls and ecstasy loses its popularity among clubbers, according to a wide-ranging study of drug abuse in Britain.
Official attempts to stem the use of illegal substances have failed, with cocaine soaring in popularity and addiction to heroin remaining stubbornly high.
The report delivers the bleak warning that Britain has the worst levels of drug abuse in Europe and the continent's second highest rate of drug-related deaths.
Cocaine use among young people has tripled since the late 1990s to more than 750,000 in 2005-2006, the study for the new UK Drug Policy Commission says.
Nearly 5 per cent of people entering drug rehabilitation programmes say their main problem is with cocaine. The average street price has dropped from £69 ($187) to £49 a gram over the past six years.
"From being an exclusive drug, used only by the wealthy and some dependent drug users, it has now become part of the menu of psychoactive substances that young people use to enhance their leisure time. It may have come into fashion among these people as ecstasy reduced in perceived quality," the report says.
It said one in four people aged 26 to 30 have tried a class A drug, such as heroin, cocaine or ecstasy, at least once.
The number of heroin users has risen from 5000 in 1975 to an estimated 281,000 in England and 50,000 in Scotland. It has now stabilised at "levels that are very high by international standards".
With around 20 per cent of people arrested dependent on heroin, the cost of drug-related crime in England and Wales is estimated at more than £13 billion.
Drug use is now of common experience for people born since 1970, although most try cannabis only a few times with a small minority going on to be problematic users of harder drugs.
source: Nigel Morris, New Zealand Herald