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Why Did US Cocaine Use Drop Since the 2000s?

A pack of medical pills on a world map. Travel medication or drug trafficking concept image.

The focus of the American Drug War has shifted radically since it was declared in the 1970s, from marijuana to cocaine to fentanyl.

Marijuana is often considered to be mostly a lost cause in the Drug War, as it is legal in one form or another in a majority of US states.

Cocaine, however, isn’t grabbing headlines the way it did in the 80s and 90s. In fact, many researchers say that its use has precipitously declined since the 2000s. Did America win this battle in the war against drugs? Well, not exactly.

While overall demand for cocaine seems to be down, looking closer, there may be more to things than the sensationalized headlines suggest. Below are some of the likely reasons why there is a spate of articles declaring a drop in cocaine use. Get in touch with Boston Drug Treatment Centers to learn more about treatment options for cocaine and other substances.

1.) The Data Might Be Flawed

Cocaine use might not even be going down. Getting accurate data on drug use patterns can be problematic. Some tools researchers could use to figure out the general consumption of drugs in an area include wastewater analysis and checking out emergency room and admission records from local hospitals, drug treatment centers, and law enforcement records.

But while all these methods can help researchers figure out whether or not a drug is popular in a given area, it is not as useful for telling them the precise consumption behavior of every consumer of a given drug. While cocaine is habit forming, only a minority of people who try it

out will go on to develop a cocaine use disorder.

If a lot of people are experimenting and not continually consuming it, the data gathered through current methods can easily give the impression that there are fewer users even if the number grew. Additionally, some segments of the population are more likely to be accosted by law enforcement or seek help than others, further obfuscating the scale and specifics of the problem.

2.) Fewer Americans are Using Cocaine as a Drug of Choice

A recent RAND survey indicates that, despite modest drops, the past-year and one-time use of cocaine have not significantly gone down in the past two decades. In fact, it seems to be rising in some areas.

However, from what it looks like, for one reason or another, Americans who use cocaine are not using it as frequently as they used to in previous generations, instead, they are going for other stimulant substances like MDMA and methamphetamines or opioids like fentanyl.

3.) Other Drugs are Much Cheaper

One possible reason that Americans might not be consuming as much cocaine is the relatively high street price of the drug compared to other illicit substances. While prices and purity have gone up since the 1980s, cocaine remains far more expensive per gram compared to other illicit stimulants like methamphetamines or MDMA, which have the benefit of being synthesizable from cheap and legal chemical compounds.

Cocaine, on the other hand, has to be shipped into the country in more or less its final form, increasing the complications and cost of smuggling the substance into the US. Seizures by law enforcement also causes the international organizations that supply and ship the drugs to have to ramp up the prices or sell other drugs to cover their losses.

4.) There Are Fears Of Tainted Street Drugs

Because cocaine is so expensive, street dealers are incentivized to cut their products with other substances to further increase their overheads. Unfortunately, the substances that they cut cocaine with tend to be whatever is cheapest and still delivers a high, which almost always means something toxic. Recently, cocaine cut with fentanyl has caused a surge of cocaine-related ODs.

Given that relatively few cocaine users actually have a cocaine use disorder, this can mean that the fear of an unintended overdose might be reducing the demand for the drug among casual users.

5.) Drug Preferences May Be Cyclical

The demand for specific categories of drugs tends to rise and drop in a generation-spanning cycle. Many users of one drug may switch to a cheaper drug or something that has a different effect from their drug of choice. In the United States, the focus of drug culture historically changed from generation to generation, and cocaine just might not be an “it” substance today.

6.) Suppliers are Targeting Other Markets

According to the 2019 Global Drug Survey which interviewed more than 130,000 people across 36 countries, the United States is currently only 9th in the world for cocaine use per capita, trailing far behind many Western European countries and Canada.

Of course, the United States is a diverse country and major city centers are likely to have higher cocaine consumption, but this goes to show that drug suppliers target places where they could make the most profit for the least effort. Cocaine may very well be less accessible and, perhaps, less popular at least partly for this reason.

Find Help for Cocaine Use Disorder Today

Even if most people who use drugs have moved on or prefer other substances, cocaine remains readily available and dangerous. The lack of current popularity and the perception that it is less dangerous than other drugs like fentanyl can give you a skewed idea of what the risks are.

If you need help understanding cocaine use disorders and their treatment options, you can call our team at (857) 577-8193 to learn more.

Resources:

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, April 8). Cocaine DrugFacts.
  2. DiSalvo, P., Cooper, G., Tsao, J., Romeo, M., Laskowski, L. K., Chesney, G., & Su, M. K. (2021). Fentanyl-contaminated cocaine outbreak with laboratory confirmation in New York City in 2019The American Journal of Emergency Medicine40, 103-105.
  3. Canning, P., Doyon, S., Ali, S., Logan, S. B., Alter, A., Hart, K., … & Jenkins, M. (2021). Using surveillance with near–real-time alerts during a cluster of overdoses from fentanyl-contaminated crack cocaine, Connecticut, June 2019Public Health Reports136(1_suppl), 18S-23S.
  4. Davies, E., Maier, L., Barratt, M., Ferris, J., & Winstock, A. (2019). What a quarter of a million clubbers can tell us about alcohol related harms using findings from the last five years of Global Drug Survey.
  5. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2021). UNODC World Drug Report 2021: pandemic effects ramp up drug risks, as youth underestimate cannabis dangers.