Drugs, pills, and anxiety
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Drugs, knives and anxiety: talking to a student drug dealer

It’s ten in the morning and I am sitting across from a young drug dealer. If you saw him in the street, you would think he looks like many other people his age. He is not dressed in designer clothes that reveal his weekly revenue, nor scruffy tracksuits that might be the stereotypical outfit for someone who sells addictive, illegal drugs to others.

It has been reported that drugs have claimed the lives of over 50 people in Coventry in the past two years, and it is impossible to ignore the death of a young man in a suspected drug overdose at the Leamington Assembly nightclub just weeks ago.

The Home Office published a report on Drug Misuse in 2018/2019, which revealed that around 1 in 5 (20.3%) adults aged 16 to 24 had taken a drug in the last year, equating to around 1.3 million people in the UK. Young people (16 to 24 year olds) are also more likely to be ‘frequent’ drug users than the wider population.

Whilst many argue that drugs themselves are not bad – with some people calling for the legalisation of cannabis in the UK – the aforementioned deaths perhaps indicate otherwise. Sadly, the Home Office’s report also revealed that people with self-reported lower levels of happiness were more likely to have taken drugs in the last year than those with self-reported higher levels of happiness.

Around 1 in 5 (20.3%) of adults aged 16 to 24 took drugs in the last year

The student who sits across from me not only supplies this industry, but is a user himself. As I am still digesting my breakfast and wishing I hadn’t skipped my cup of tea, he admits to me that he is still a little high from smoking at six in the morning. He apologises, saying it might make him a bit slow when answering my questions, but I tell him it doesn’t matter: he doesn’t need to answer quickly, just as honestly as he can.

How did you start dealing?

“It began when I started using, to be honest. I realised there’s a lot of money to be made, which I needed, so I spoke to my brother. I guess you could say he brought me in.”

How old were you when you started?

“I was 15, my first job was selling some ketamine. [He pauses and laughs to himself a little.] It sounds really bad when you say it out loud. I mean, at the end of the day someone has to do it. People will always want drugs and there’ll always be people to sell them.”

You’ve mentioned money being a big motivator for you. What do you use the money for?

“A lot of it goes into savings. I’m trying to get enough for a deposit on a house. But you know, you can’t take money or material things to the grave so anything I do spend, I use it for experiences with my family and friends.”

When you say the money is good, what would you estimate that to be?

“I’ve heard it’s about 6-7 grand a week profit for the whole operation. I think there’s about 11 of us being runners, dealers, security and everything else. Sometimes we have to call in extra guys for safety if it’s a big job.”

Mentioning the need for security sounds like it can be dangerous. Do you ever regret becoming a dealer?

“I do, yeah: my anxiety is absolutely dreadful. Even if I’m not carrying anything or I’m just walking down the street, I feel so scared. Mental health is a massive part of the job for me, it’s so hard.”

What are you afraid of?

“I don’t want to go to prison, but it’s not the police I’m afraid of day to day. I’ve had knives and even guns pulled on me before. I’ve been chased down roads by people with knives. That’s why you make so much money, it’s the risk, I hate it.”

Is the violence the worst part?

“Prison is obviously something I worry about all the time, but yeah: violence is the worst. I’ve had two mates shot and one killed. It’s a worry and it’s tough to carry on sometimes.”

This is the most open he’s been throughout the interview. He skims over the trauma he has just revealed and instead asks if I want to hear a funny story, which he begins but loses track of. I tell him it was funny anyway and he seems a bit happier.

Why continue if it makes you so anxious?

“Money, really. It’s also not easy to say you’re quitting – you can’t exactly hand in a two week notice. [He laughs, but there is a touch of sadness in this truth]. The money makes it worth it.”

You’ve said it can be hard for you, but do you ever worry about the impact your drugs may have on the people you sell to?

“Yeah… and I want to say, I’m really passionate about what happened in Assembly. It’s a tragedy. The pill probably had something to do with it but like I said, people will always take drugs. They need safe spaces to do them. I mix with the safest things I can, refuse to sell too much to the same person in one night and I don’t sell certain drugs because they’re likely to hurt people. Most of my customers are mates as well, so I really do care about them – I’d never mug them off in that way. I try and make it a bit fun, too.”

What do you mean by fun?

“I’ve done a raffle before where the prize is £500 cash for the winner – they just have to buy [drugs] from me and they get an entry. I made £1500 from that, if you take away the prize money, and everyone seemed to enjoy it.”

He laughs and I can’t help but join in – raffles are something usually saved for school fairs or fundraisers. He begins telling me about how he’d like to go into sales: it’s basically what he does now, he asserts. The young man thinks he’d be good at it and he’d like to get away from his day job in retail. Recognising people he knows through dealing whilst at work makes him anxious, he tells me, but when is he not? He seems more enthusiastic about a future job in sales than his current job running. He tells me he actually enjoys working in a shop, that he works hard, but the money from retail work is nowhere near enough for him now.

Now that you’re getting older, do you think you’ll ever stop selling drugs?

“I definitely don’t want to stay in the lifestyle forever. Hopefully I’ll make my money, find a decent job one day and quit. I will quit eventually.”

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