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Cocaine’s Comeback

September 24, 2021

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Claudia Black Young Adult Center

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By Melissa Riddle Chalos

There was a time when cocaine was the recreational drug of choice. It was the 1980s when the Columbian cocaine trade reached its zenith as the “vice” of Miami and cities all over the US. Nixon had declared war on drugs in 1971, but little had been accomplished in a decade. By 1985, crack cocaine had wreaked havoc on inner-city America. By the mid-’90s, opioid addiction crowned itself the king of addictions, the fallout continuing even as you read this. Epidemic after crisis, the pursuit of the high changes with the tide, without compassion for its victims.

With the spotlight focused on the opioid crisis in recent years, a new generation of cocaine users has quietly emerged. Perceived as less dangerous than other drugs because it’s been largely left out of pop culture and current media coverage, the drug’s dangers have often been underestimated. 

Perceived as less dangerous than other drugs because it’s been largely left out of pop culture and current media coverage, the drug’s dangers have often been underestimated. 

Signs of Resurgence

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), production of coca — the plant from which cocaine is made — is at an all-time high in Columbia. COVID-19 may have impeded the drug chain in the short term, but all signs point to a production resurgence in the wake of the economic downturn in South America. Ultimately, more coca equals more cocaine supply, which equals a cheaper high for anyone seeking it. But what of the demand?

On that front, there is good news. Cocaine use among teenagers has been in decline 2-5% since 2006. Fewer teens and young adults are being introduced to cocaine culture, which means cocaine is fueling fewer addictions. 

Awareness of perceived risk of cocaine has remained steady since the late ’90s. In fact, the 2020 Monitoring the Future Study showed that 85% of teens in 8th and 12th grade said that they do not approve of cocaine use.

And yet, the decrease isn’t enough. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in 2019 showed that more than 1 million young adults, ages 18 to 25, meet the criteria for cocaine use disorder. In other words, more than 1 million are showing signs of cocaine addiction

As attention has focused intently on the opioid epidemic over the past 10 to 12 years, cocaine still has a tightening grip on a vulnerable sector of the population.

Who Is Using and Why

Youth culture today is rife with pressures that previous generations couldn’t have even imagined. Teens struggle with depression and anxiety at levels unseen before the advent of social media. Bullying is part and parcel of youth culture. They’ve been desensitized to violence and to dangerous sexual behaviors. They struggle to focus, to trust anyone in authority, and often choose the “safety” of the virtual world rather than risk failure in the real one. 

It’s no wonder then, that many young adults feel they need stimulants in order to be successful in school, in sports … in life. More than 6% of children in the US are being treated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medication, and one in six college students say they use drugs like Adderall, Ritalin or Dexedrine — typically prescribed for ADHD — as a stimulant or “study drug.” It’s so commonplace, in fact, that 79% of students who use Adderall say they got the drug from fellow students, according to Psycom.net.

Among the positive side effects like increased focus, energy, and elevated mood, Adderall also produces fatigue, loss of appetite, and increased drug cravings. 

Cocaine Opioid - Claudia Black Young Adult Center

The New Adderall or Opioid Alternative?

Like Adderall, cocaine is a stimulant that increases attention, focus, and euphoria, enabling its user to stay awake longer. It stands to reason that, over time and with increasingly cheap accessibility, young adults are more likely to start using cocaine in college. The younger you start using any form of stimulant, the more likely you are to feel abnormal without it, and the more likely you are to experiment with other stimulants as you age. 

In the same way that heroin use surged as a replacement for increasingly regulated prescription painkillers, cocaine presents itself as an alternative when a prescription isn’t available. But there is nothing harmless about cocaine.

Cocaine Culture 

Whether cocaine ever really went away or whether it’s making a comeback among young adults, one truth is certain: cocaine is as dangerous as it ever was.

Cocaine is highly addictive and comes with long-term health issues, including:

  • Severe depression
  • Psychosis
  • Disorientation
  • Severe tissue damage
  • Heart attack or permanent damage to heart 
  • Stroke or permanent damage to brain
  • Liver, kidney, and lung damage
  • Respiratory failure

In fact, due to the emergence of fentanyl, cocaine use is more dangerous than ever. Fentanyl — a synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than heroin — is cheap to make and highly addictive. Often sold in lieu of heroin or pressed into counterfeit Xanax pills, drug dealers are using fentanyl and other substances to bulk up their cocaine supply during pandemic shortages.  

As a result, there’s been a marked increase in cocaine-related deaths.

In August 2021, six people in Suffolk County, New York, died from fentanyl-laced cocaine. But it’s happening everywhere … from San Francisco to Nebraska, where 26 people overdosed on fentanyl-laced cocaine in a three-week period.

We are living in a cocaine culture, comeback or not. And with the introduction of fentanyl, the chance of overdose is unbelievably high.

Whether cocaine ever really went away or whether it’s making a comeback among young adults, one truth is certain: cocaine is as dangerous as it ever was.

How to Get Help

When you understand the devastating effects of cocaine on a user, you understand that “mind over matter” is no match for the drug’s ability to alter brain chemistry. You can’t just stop because your brain won’t let you. And trying to stop on your own comes with a dangerous set of consequences and withdrawal side effects.

But there is help for cocaine use disorder or cocaine addiction. 

At the Claudia Black Center, we help young adults, ages 18 to 26, uncover the root causes of addiction and co-occurring disorders. In a safe, nurturing community, we work together to face difficult issues, from grief and loss to emotional trauma, and to take ownership of our own feelings, behaviors, and recovery. Healing and restoration are possible. And we are here to help you find it.