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PolicyPolicy
II. America's Drug Use Profile
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Cocaine Abuse: We Are Still Paying The Price For The 1980s

Cocaine use, which devastated America's inner cities in the 1980s, is not as prevalent today. Occasionaluse of cocaine is just a fraction of what it was in the 1980s. Studies such as ADAM and ONDCP's Pulse Check indicate that the population of chronic cocaine users is aging. It is this aging population that is most problematic. The increase in emergency room mentions for cocaine abuse (up by 39 percent since 1992) indicates that the cohort of cocaine users is suffering health consequences that are becoming more manifest. Today we are paying accelerated health care costs for those addicts who began their cocaine use in the 1980s.

Current Use of Cocaine is Down Significantly
Source: 1997 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse

Overall usage. In 1997 an estimated 1.5 million Americans were current cocaine users. This figure represents 0.7 percent of the household population aged twelve and older, a slight decline from 1996 and a substantial decline from the 1985 figure of 5.7 million. The current-use rate, however, has not changed significantly in the last seven years.59 The number of first-time users in 1996 (675,000) was significantly lower than in the years between 1977 and 1987, when more than one million Americans tried cocaine each year. This rate, however, reflects a steady increase from the seventeen-year low point of first-time cocaine users in 1991.60 Estimates of the number of chronic cocaine users vary, but 3.6 million is a widely accepted figure within the research community.61

Cocaine Initiation Rates are a Fraction of the 1970s Rate, But are Rising
Source: 1997 Household Survey

Use among youth. Cocaine use is not prevalent among young people. The 1998 MTF survey found that the proportion of students reporting use of powder cocaine in the past year to be 3.1 percent, 4.7 percent, and 5.7 percent among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, respectively. This rate represents no statistically significant change from 1997. While year-to-year changes in use of cocaine have been slight and insignificant, the trend since 1993 has been steadily increasing and significant. The overall youth use rates are low but are still a cause for concern. Young people are experimenting with cocaine, underscoring the need for effective prevention. This requirement is substantiated by the NHSDA's finding of a steady decline in the mean age of first use from 22.6 years in 1990 to 18.7 years in 1996 -- the lowest since 1969.62

Cocaine Purity has Declined Since 1991's Peak
Source: Abt Associates for ONDCP

Availability. The August 1998 Semiannual Interagency Assessment of Cocaine Movement estimated that 151 metric tons of cocaine arrived in the United States in the first six months of 1998.63 Powder cocaine retailed at approximately $169 per pure gram in 1998, a slight decline from 1997's price -- the first year the average price increased since 1990 -- but slightly above 1996's price.64 Cocaine was readily available in all major metropolitan areas. Purity declined at the wholesale level, from 67 percent pure in 1997 to 65.9 percent in 1998, but increased at the retail level from 65 percent to 71 percent over the same period. Overall purity of cocaine at both levels has steadily declined since 1991.65 Retail purity levels vary widely according to local supply and demand. An ONDCP sponsored PME drug flow working group analysis based on source and seizure data puts the total amount of cocaine available in the United States at 289 metric tons in 1997, the lowest amount since the 1980s and far below the peak of 529 metric tons in 1992.66

Cocaine Seizures Remain Constant
Source: FDSS

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1999 National Drug Control Strategy Office of National Drug Control Policy