INTRAVAL. Bureau voor sociaal-wetenschappelijk onderzoek en advies
Between the Lines
Chapter 3    General Impressions (part 1)
In this chapter some research findings are discussed within the framework of what is known from the literature on cocaine use and cocaine users. First, the opportunity structure of cocaine in Rotterdam will be described on the basis of field work observations and in-depth interviews. The second section deals with some background characteristics of cocaine users in Rotterdam. After that we look at: method of use, frequency, effects, the concept of addiction, cocaine in relation to alcohol and other drugs, and the connection with socially deviant and criminal behaviour. These results are based on quantified data from the qualitative part of the interview (see Appendix B for a complete description). Some background characteristics of the nominees are derived from the quantitative part of the interview. The remaining sections of the chapter deal with cocaine and sex, XTC, and the quality of cocaine. These findings are derived from the observations and in-depth interviews.
3.1    Opportunity structure
In Rotterdam, just as in other Dutch cities, there is an availability structure relating to drugs (Cohen 1989, Korf et al. 1990, Intraval 1987, 1989 and 1991, Grapendaal et al. 1991). If you hang around for 15 minutes in front of the Central Station you will get a reasonably accurate picture of the wide supply of drugs currently on the market. Smack or brown (heroin), meeth (methadone), white (cocaine), cooked coke (type of crack) are a selection of what is on offer to people who show an interest.
As said before the evidence is that most of the opiate users do in fact have experience with cocaine. They are the most visible group of cocaine users when appearance and use are considered, and are best know. Often the field workers were referred to the Central Station (a famous gathering place of heroin users) when they asked people about cocaine use. The poly-drug users form only a part of the total population of cocaine users. The use of the larger part of cocaine users is less visible. Compared to heroin, cocaine appears to be more readily considered a social drug. This is not surprising when we consider the effects of cocaine, such as facilitating social contact, increasing tolerance to alcohol and making it easier for people to maintain their stamina for a longer period. For many people, cocaine is considered to have the characteristic of leisure rather than being seen as an instrument. As we have said earlier, cocaine use is frequently found in places where people look for pleasure and entertainment, at parties and other special celebrations (Christmas, New Year). Cocaine is taken in groups of friends or acquaintances and in an atmosphere which may be described as cosy. Cocaine is used mostly in the evening or at night. "It's not something you take before putting your feet up in front of the TV", is how one of the users puts it. Because of the specific relationship between cocaine and leisure activities, we will now take a more detailed look at the entertainment scene of Rotterdam.
Entertainment facilities
A characteristic feature of leisure provision in Rotterdam is the spread across the city. What we see are scattered concentrations of pubs, bars and discotheques, each with its own clientele. There is a certain degree of interchange, i.e. different social groups visit more than one concentration but these groups usually have their own separate pubs, cafes and discotheques. A number of these are clearly linked to cocaine and cocaine use. They are even known to people who are not users. The names of these pubs were often mentioned during the field work. Several of these places are not popular with nightlife seekers, not even with those who use cocaine themselves. During the period of our field work we saw that a number of incidents (fights and so on) took place inside and nearby establishments known to be linked to cocaine use. It is, however, difficult to attribute this solely to cocaine use. Consumption of cocaine is often accompanied by (excessive) consumption of alcohol.
A number of the stories which are circulating in this context are clearly fictitious. We did not discover any bars where the lines are openly displayed on the counter and where joint sniffing takes place. Insiders reported that this is now a feature of the past. Present day consumption of cocaine is less public. Nightlife and cocaine use are still clearly intertwined but there are signs of a shift in this pattern. Due to strict monitoring, in the form of toilet attendants and sawn-off toilet doors, use of cocaine has been moved outdoors. It is taken in cars, on parking lots, or in nearby parks on benches. We also have the impression that it is moving increasingly to the more intimate setting of the home. People take cocaine at home or with friends before going out. Some users admit that they prefer to take cocaine in quieter surroundings. A quick sniff on the toilet with other users or porters banging on the door no longer attracts them.
Social events
As we said, cocaine is used particularly in the evening and at night. No use of cocaine was noted at social events which took place during the day. At such events, consumption is limited mainly to hashish and alcohol. Social events which are more likely to take place at night form a more attractive setting for cocaine use. In some cases it seems that somebody is special 'rented' to act as dealer. "My friend used to do that and one year the organisation phoned and asked if he would do it again for them. But he wasn't interested. I was doing a job at his place at the time and he asked if I would like to deputize for him. That was nice of him. The organisation wanted someone who they know deals in cocaine but is not stigmatized as a dealer. Not the toughie with sun glasses and shiny jacket. The organisation want to keep things under control. They don't want strange types circulating and they want to avoid that their guests have to go into town if they want some cocaine. It has to be there, on offer. A sort of service."
Major events, particularly those that go on into the small hours, are the ideal opportunity to experience the various things on offer. House parties, too, are the chance for some people to use drugs, for instance cocaine or XTC (or whatever is pedalled under this name).
Really open use was noted only sporadically. Cocaine is mostly treated with discretion; it is not something you discuss casually with people you do not know. Use in pubs, cafes or discotheques often takes place in the toilets or in dark quiet corners of the premises. Despite stricter control, it is not possible to banish its use completely. It may be described as 'hidden visibility', you see only what you want to see. This is also for pragmatic reasons, since if a user is discovered he is usually ejected from the premises. Users appear to use a certain discretion, withdrawing for a moment, e.g. to the toilet, to take cocaine. Observations showed that even in places where the owner himself was openly using cocaine, other users tend to take it behind closed doors, in the kitchen or the toilet. This is also the case in 'posh' circles at parties: cocaine is taken in another room in order not to disturb or shock non-users. Coded signals are often given such as pointing to your nose or saying that you are just going to get a 'sniff'.
Methods of use in pubs, discotheques and so on, are limited to sniffing and smoking. Basing is very sporadic. The manner in which people take cocaine shows a certain democratisation. Little mirrors and silver tins or rolled up banknotes are being replaced by bank identification cards (or in more well-off circles the occasional credit card) and straws or empty pen casings. Often cocaine is quickly put on the fold of skin between the thumb and forefinger and then sniffed (inhaled). Basing and other methods such as injecting and 'chasing the dragon' take place at home, at dealers' premises, or in public places. The latter refers in particular to poly-drug users.
During the field work we did not pay specific attention to cocaine dealing. Information was obtained, though, on small-scale trading at street level. The way in which users obtain cocaine varies considerably. Some people pick it up from the dealer's premises, others have it delivered to their home by the dealer. A remarkable feature is that while on the one hand dealing in heroin is becoming increasingly intertwined with dealing in cocaine, on the other hand distinctive supply channels can be discerned. In other words, there are dealers/locations where cocaine, hash, XTC and possibly speed are obtainable but where heroin is completely absent. Further research will have to show the extent to which this distinction differs according to the group of users in question. What is clear is that poly-drug users obtain their cocaine from markets where there is a certain linkage.
Cocaine is supplied in small envelopes and sometimes in plastic bags in which soft drugs, too, are pedalled. The amount is usually a quarter of a gram ('quarters'). Prices are comparable to heroin prices and vary from 25 to 50 guilders ($13 to $25) per quarter of a gram. It depends on the place and the quality. If you purchase larger quantities or are better known to the dealer, the price goes down and is around 70 to 180 guilders ($35 to $90) per gram.
The following picture emerged of dealing at street level.
  • The Street
Well known places are: the Central Station and surroundings, West-Kruiskade, Nieuwe Binnenweg and Witte de Withstraat. Sometimes cooked coke is also sold, which is prepared where it is sold (toilets Central Station). Buying on the street is usually discouraged by insiders since the cocaine on offer is often of inferior quality. There is a clear linkage with the heroin market. This is the most easily accessible market for outsiders and newcomers. Occasional use is made of the services of street prostitutes, who act as couriers. Users are aware that street prostitutes take cocaine and know where it is obtainable. Street prostitutes carry out courier services in return for a part of the drugs purchased.
  • Heroin dealer premises
Heroin dealer premises are found in different parts of Rotterdam. Here too the dealing is often linked to heroin trading. The dealers clients are mostly poly-drug users. There is a certain degree of public nuisance and these premises are known to the police.
  • Cocaine dealer premises
These premises, dealing exclusively in cocaine, are also found in different parts of Rotterdam. There is usually no question of public nuisance and these premises are not known to the police.
  • Porters or house dealers
In a number of pubs, cafes and discotheques it is possible to obtain cocaine from the porter or through the house dealer. This market appears to be quite separate from the heroin market. If required, hash, speed or XTC may also be obtained. There are coffee shops where in addition to soft drugs also other substances such as heroin and cocaine are obtainable. There are also dealers who trade in hash in addition to cocaine. However, a large number of coffeeshops deal exclusively in cocaine; hard drug users are kept at a distance for fear of 'contamination'.
  • Home deliveries
A number of users have cocaine delivered to their homes by a dealer. As far as is known, such dealers supply only cocaine and maybe hash. This market, too, is quite separate from the heroin market. In such a relationship the client and the dealer are known to each other and the client trusts his dealer.
3.2    Background characteristics
In general more men than women use cocaine. Two American studies mention 32% and 44% women, against 68% and 56% men. (Morningstar and Chitwood 1987, Erickson et al. 1987). In the study on non-deviant cocaine use in Amsterdam, 40% of the sample consists of women (Cohen 1989). In Rotterdam fewer women were found: 19% of the respondents are female and 81% male, which is (more) similar to the female-male proportion among opiate addicts (Intraval 1989 and 1991, Korf et al. 1990, NCV 1990, Toet and Geurs 1992). In contrast to the Amsterdam research, cocaine users who also use(d) opiates (33% of the respondents) have been interviewed in Rotterdam(1). The small number of women cannot however be explained by this fact. When the opiate users are left out, still 19% of the respondents are female. In the previous chapter it is already stated that the Rotterdam respondents also named other cocaine users (nominees). Among other things, they mentioned the age and gender of these nominees. This means that the gender of more than 1,000 cocaine users in Rotterdam is known. Only a small increase is observed in the proportion of female users, however: 23% women and 77% men. From this it can be concluded that approximately a quarter of the population of cocaine users in Rotterdam are women.
Figure 3.1
Age distribution og respondents (N=110) and nominees (N=1,043)
Age distribution og respondents (N=110) and nominees (N=1,043)
The average age of the respondents is 29 years. De youngest respondent is 18, the eldest 47 years. Among the nominees the youngest person is below 15 years, the eldest above 50. Figure 3.1 shows that cocaine use in Rotterdam is clearly spread over the different age categories. The average category is 20-30 years (2) (see Spotts and Shontz 1984, Morningstar and Chitwood 1987, NIDA 1990). The average age of the Rotterdam respondents turns out to be lower than that of the Amsterdam respondents. In particular, more users under 21 years of age are found in Rotterdam.
Table 3.1
Age distribution of respondents and nominees, by gender and kind of drugs used (in%)
Gender Drug Total Total
Man Woman NO* O* Respondents Nominees

<21 year 11 5 14 3 10 10
21-25 24 9 22 19 21 24
26-30 24 38 23 33 26 27
31-35 18 34 24 14 21 18
36-40 20 9 16 13 18 14
>40 3 5 1 8 4 7

total 100% 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%
n=89 n=21 n=74 n=36 n=110 n=1043
* NO = non-opiate users; O = opiate users
The average age of respondents who also use(d) opiates is 30 years, the average age of those who never used opiates is well over 28 years. In general, men turn out to be younger than women, almost 29 years and well over 30 years respectively. Among the respondents who never used opiates, the largest difference in age is found between men and women: as much as 79% of the women are between 25-35 years of age, against 40% of the men. This may well explain the large proportion of women in the Amsterdam sample, which for the greater part consists of respondents in the age group 25-35 year.
Well over a tenth (12%) of the Rotterdam respondents belongs to ethnical minorities; they are Surinamese, Antillean, Mediterranean, Indonesian, Moluccan and Cape Verdean. In the Amsterdam study, it is known only that 12% of the respondents were born outside the Netherlands.
Well over a tenth (12%) of the Rotterdam respondents belongs to ethnical minorities; they are Surinamese, Antillean, Mediterranean, Indonesian, Moluccan and Cape Verdean. In the Amsterdam study, it is known only that 12% of the respondents were born outside the Netherlands.
According to several large-scale American studies of cocaine users in the Eighties, the high-risk group for cocaine is, unlike heroin, not made up of weak, emotionally disturbed or socially deprived people, but of modern, strong and resourceful individuals. This sort of person subscribes to the current values of western society: material success, career, ambition, competition. He can be found in the world of advertising and consultancy, and also among actors, writers, lawyers, and in the older professions. According to these studies, a large portion of heavy cocaine users consists of successful, highly educated yuppies in their twenties and thirties. They have no money worries (Spotts and Shontz 1984, NIDA 1986, Morningstar and Chitwood 1987). Also in the United States however, the opinion that all of this is (to a large extent) based on myths surrounding cocaine which no longer correspond to reality is gaining ground (e.g. Kozel and Adams 1985). In both America and the Netherlands a gradual tarnishing of the image of cocaine has been occurring in recent years (Arif 1987, Cohen 1989). Recently, more and more young people in the United States, especially those from the ghettos, seem to get addicted to crack (a variation of cocaine).
The fact that opiate users have also been interviewed in the Rotterdam study, shows that cocaine use is no longer the preserve of the wealthy. Furthermore, half (51%) of the Rotterdam respondents were without a regular job at the time of the interview (table 3.2). Fewer women than men have a job. The same holds true for opiate users versus non-opiate users. When the opiate users are left out, 40% of the respondents are without a regular job, compared to one third of the non-deviant cocaine users from Amsterdam (Cohen 1989).
Table 3.2
Daily activities of respondents, by gender and kind of drugs used (in %)
Gender Drug Total
Male Woman NO* O*

employed 41 29 50 17 39
unemployed 52 48 40 75 51
housewife - 14 - 8 3
student 7 9 10 - 7

total 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%
n=89 n=21 n=74 n=36 N=110
* NO = non-opiate users; O = opiate users
To describe the occupations of the respondents, we used an occupation classification based on socio-economic status (Salvany and Alonso 1988).
Table 3.3
Occupation of respondents, based on socio-economic status (in %)
Gender Drug Total
Man Woman NO* O*

professional 4 4 7 - 4
intermediate 20 10 22 11 18
skilled 6 6 5 6 6
partly skilled 30 33 27 39 31
unskilled 7 - 4 8 6
inadequately described (3) 33 47 35 36 35

total 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%
n=89 n=21 n=74 n=36 N=110
* NO = non-opiate users; O = opiate users
There appears to be a great diversity. Almost a quarter (22%) of the respondents has a professional or intermediate occupation, more than one third (37%) carries out unskilled or partly skilled labour (table 3.3). There are clear differences in occupation between opiate users and non-opiate users, while the differences between men and women are small.
With the use of the classification based on socio-economic status, much information is lost on the specific characteristics of the occupations and professions. Therefore a second classification is made for both respondents and nominees, based on the type of profession or the occupational sector. In this, both prostitutes and sex-club owners have for instance been put into the category sex industry. Artists, expressive artists, jugglers and musicians have been grouped under 'art and culture'. A list of the occupational categories can be found in Appendix D, together with some examples of the professions mentioned by the respondents. The occupation of one fifth of the nominees is unknown, however: according to the respondents, these nominees were entitled to social security at the time of the interview. In case the respondent is without a regular job at the time, his unpaid or illegal activities, or his earlier profession have been looked into. Figure 3.2 shows a great diversity in the professions of the Rotterdam cocaine users.
Figure 3.2
Occupations of respondents and nominees, based upon occupational sector
Occupations of respondents and nominees, based upon occupational sector
Well-represented sectors are: art and culture, entertainment and the technical sector. Female respondents more often perform in the health care sector, the entertainment sector and the sex industry, male respondents more often in technical occupations and the criminal circuit. Opiate users appear to be well-represented in the sex industry and the criminal circuit. In line with the Amsterdam research, non-opiate users more often study and are more often found in the sector art and culture, in professional jobs or the entertainment sector. A high percentage (18%) of the technical occupations are also found among non-opiate users from Rotterdam.
The educational level of the respondent also shows a great spread. Almost a third (31%) of the respondents have higher education (higher vocational or university education). By contrast 21% have only lower education (junior secondary vocational education). There are no differences between male and female cocaine users concerning educational level. The level of education of opiate users is however much lower than that of non-opiate users (table 3.4). Compared to Amsterdam, the Rotterdam respondents show a greater diversity in educational level, even when the opiate users are set aside(4). A striking fact is that more than half (55%) of the Rotterdam respondents did not finish their education. This holds good for two thirds of the opiate users, against half of the non-opiate users, 17% of the latter respondents are still studying.
Table 3.4
Level of education of respondents, by gender and kind of drugs used (in %)
Gender Drug Total
Man Woman NO* O*

Junior secondary vocational 24 10 18 28 21
Junior general secondary 9 10 5 17 9
Senior secondary vocational 21 35 18 36 24
Senior general secondary 12 10 14 8 14
Pre-university 3 - 1 6 1
Higher vocational 25 25 34 5 25
University 6 10 10 - 6

total 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%
n=89 n=20 n=73 n=36 N=109
* NO = non-opiate users; O = opiate users
Summarizing, we may say that occupations and level of education vary considerably. From this it may be concluded that the use of cocaine in Rotterdam takes place in different socio-economic circles. Half of the cocaine users are without a regular job. There are however large differences between opiate users and non-opiate users. Even when the opiate users are left out, the Rotterdam respondents show greater diversity in professions and education than the Amsterdam respondents. The traditional image of the cocaine user has clearly been shattered in Rotterdam.
3.3    Methods of use
Cocaine can be sniffed, injected intravenously, or used by way of 'free basing'. It is rarely smoked, if only because this is an expensive and wasteful way of using the drug. As far as is known, the great majority of cocaine users sniff the drug, certainly outside the world of opiate addicts. Less than 20% of Cohen's non-deviant respondents in Amsterdam had ever based, and only 6% had ever injected (1989). It is possible that there is some connection between method of use and the degree of social integration of lifestyle (see also Van Hunnik 1989). Basing is the smoking of cocaine alkaloid (crystals) in glass waterpipes filled with, for example, strong rum. The specific effects of cocaine hit extra hard with this method, especially since the user is, for a time, inclined to compulsively continue the intake. It is possible to lose all track of the quantity which is being used (NIDA 1986). Intensive and prolonged basing can lead to physical deterioration (Boetje 1984).
Crack, to be found on a great scale on the streets in the United States, is the hydrochloride component of cocaine, distilled with the aid of soda and water to a 'base' (with free basing this is done using volatile substances). It can be smoked, for example in a pipe. As such, it is not found on the Dutch market, but it is possible that some users produce it themselves at home. In our interviews, the respondents have been explicitly asked about their experiences with crack. According to some of them so-called 'gekookte coke' (cooked coke) is available in Rotterdam, especially in and around the Central Railway Station. In this respect people often speak of the Dutch variation of crack.
From figure 3.3 it can be concluded that sniffing is the most frequently applied method of use in Rotterdam also (50%), followed by injecting (15%), basing (5%), chasing the dragon(5) (3%) and smoking (1%). A quarter (26%) of the respondents however use several ways of ingestion. Often snorting is combined with an other method, especially basing and smoking (see figure 3.3). Compared to the Amsterdam respondents, injecting and basing appear to be more popular methods of use. Only 18% of the Amsterdam respondents had ever based and 6% had ever injected cocaine (Cohen 1989). In contrast, basing turns out to be the most important way of ingestion in the period of heaviest use for 12 % of the respondents from Rotterdam. As to injecting, this same holds true for 16% of the Rotterdam respondents(6). Of all respondents, 30 have based at least once (27%); of all respondents who never used opiates, 12 have based at least once (16%).
Figure 3.3
Methods of use (in %)
Methods of use (in %)
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1    Introduction
Chapter 2    Methodology
Chapter 3    General impressions
Chapter 4    The main characteristics
Chapter 5    Typology
Chapter 6    Spread, dispersion and extent
Chapter 7    Conclusions and discussion
Appendix A    Glossary
Appendix B    Occupation classification
Appendix C    Patterns of use
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