Cocaine Addiction Information
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cocaine use

Has cocaine use made a come back?

Cocaine use in the United States reached its peak between 1985 and 1989.  During this time it replaced heroin as the most prevalent and problematic illicit drug.  Since that time overall cocaine use has been declining, but in the past couple of years it has stayed the same rather than dropped.  In order to understand the trends of drug use in society, one can look at the history of cocaine to see that a drug may disappear from the public spotlight, but it rarely ceases to exist altogether.

A parallel could be made between prescription pill and heroin use in the first decade of the 21st century and cocaine use in the 1980s.  If the combination of opioid use starts to decline as more of the public attention is focused on it, does this mean cocaine use could rise?  It is a question that doesn’t have a definitive answer, but is a question that is worth exploring.

The History of Cocaine Use in America

Cocaine in its pure form was first extracted from coca leaves circa 1862, by a German scientist who had recognized its stimulant properties.  As an anesthetic it revolutionized ear, nose, and throat surgery.  As doctors began to discover cocaine’s psychoactive effects they mistook them as a cure for chronic tuberculosis, depression, morphine addiction, and many other disorders.  Cocaine quickly became the active ingredient in many tonics, popular medicines, and elixirs (including the original Coca-Cola) prescribed by physicians and other so-called healers.

Over time, with widespread availability and public consumption, adverse effects started to become recognized.  As a result of medical, psychiatric, and social problems caused by the use of cocaine, health officials and law makers alike were some of the biggest supporters of legislation to control its use.  In 1914 the Harrison Narcotic Act was passed, and for the most part cocaine abuse was put to an end.  By the 1930s, as amphetamine was introduced, cocaine demand was almost completely eradicated.

In the 1960s the public’s negative opinion of cocaine, along with many other substances, had started to soften.  In the 1970s most people saw it as a harmless recreational drug due to its limited availability.  In 1977, Douglas Wesson and David Smith wrote that if the drug were more readily available at a lower cost, or if certain social rituals supported heavier use, more destructive patterns of abuse could develop. 

Within 5 years of the 1977 paper that Wesson and Smith wrote, both developments they were concerned with occurred.  South American coca production tripled in the early part of the 1980s, making cocaine more available and with the emergence of cartels the price dropped considerably.  The other development was the introduction of crack cocaine (a form of the drug that is smoked), which was sold in “rocks” that are much cheaper, costing $5 to $20.  Crack brought cocaine to a group of people who couldn’t afford it previously, and by 1985 America was in the middle of a full-blown crack epidemic.

After the Epidemic 

Just as cocaine/crack use replaced heroin use in the mid-1980s as the biggest illicit drug problem in the US, throughout the 1990s as cocaine use declined the use of other drugs increased.  By the next decade as cocaine showed a stable decline the use of prescription pills and heroin started to increase.  The time between the first cocaine epidemic in the US and the second was nearly 70 years.  Americans would be foolish to think that it couldn’t happen again.  The Guardian reported a marked increase in cocaine use in England in 2009 due to plunging street prices, and history has shown if the right circumstances exist it could rise in popularity here again.