Police are dousing pub and club lavatories with an anti-drugs spray that causes cocaine to stick to surfaces and adds a foul taste.
Durham is believed to be the first force in England to trial the spray to deter drug-taking in public, with the Essex, Merseyside and City of London forces considering following suit.
The clear substance is sprayed on surfaces that could be used by customers to cut and take drugs such as cocaine. The spray contains a powerful bittering agent which leaves a bad taste lasting for hours if a user tries to scrape drugs off a surface and take them.
Some pubs that have already deployed the spray, known as BLOKit, claim to have seen an 80 per cent reduction in drug-taking. It is being used in 24 licensed premises in Darlington.
‘Proactive’ approach to tackling problem
Sergeant Matt Plumb, from Darlington neighbourhood police team, said: "Darlington is just like any other large town or city – people do take recreational drugs here, and we would be naive to think otherwise. The difference here is that we are doing something proactive to tackle it."
He said intelligence-gathering using sniffer dogs had demonstrated a need for a more proactive approach, with cocaine the drug most commonly found by searches.
"Cocaine and other recreational drugs don’t just cause physical damage to the people who take it – it funds organised crime and can destroy communities in which these groups operate," Sgt Plumb told Police Oracle.
"By investing in BLOKit, we hope to deter and discourage drug use within our pubs and clubs, making the town centre a safer and more enjoyable place for everyone."
The non-toxic polymer in the spray traps powdered drugs and sticks them to a surface in order to prevent snorting. The coating lasts up to 24 hours, is safe to touch and does not stain surfaces or clothing, according to the creator, Widnes-based Millwood Manufacturing, which also produces Halo laundry detergent.
More young adults in Britain take cocaine than anywhere else in Europe as availability across the continent hits unprecedented levels, according to the latest report by the EU drugs agency.
The report suggested more than one in 20 people aged between 15 and 34 in the UK took cocaine in 2018, the most recent year for which records are available.