Comments Off on Cocaine losing its allure in United States – is Meth taking over?

WASHINGTON – Once the glitterati’s drug of choice, cocaine appears to have achieved the dubious status of a has-been drug, forcing drug cartels enriched from trafficking the white powder to find new markets and diversify their illicit products.

Between 2006 and 2010, domestic use declined 37 percent, according to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health. That’s no blip on the screen.

Workplace drug tests proving positive for cocaine went down 65 percent in the same time frame, according to data provided to the government by a major testing firm, Quest Diagnostics Inc.

And while the government-funded 2011 “Monitoring the Future” survey found teens consuming greater amounts of marijuana, cocaine rates plummeted to their lowest levels since the 1980s.

The numbers “should be heralded as basically very good news about cocaine,” said U.S. drug czar R. Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Use of crack, the smokeable rock-crystal form of cocaine, is a fraction of what it was in the 1980s and ’90s.

Despite some variations, “the crack epidemic, as it was, appears to be over,” said Dr. Westley Clark, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Have we made progress? Yes, but there’s still demand (for cocaine),” he said. “It’s not zero.”

Cocaine’s lowly status in the drug world’s pecking order is a far cry from its high point in the 1980s when Colombian “cocaine cowboys” wreaked havoc in the streets of Miami and spawned a cutting-edge TV show, Miami Vice

Price up, quality down

Experts point to several factors explaining the decline. Colombia supplies more than 90 percent of the cocaine to the U.S. The Colombian government’s crackdown has reduced cocaine production by 60 percent since 2001, according to the drug czar’s office.

Accordingly, the price of cocaine has gone up since 2007 while purity levels have gone down, according to Drug Enforcement Administration data.

Also, decades of drug education and prevention programs are having an effect.

The sum total seems to be having an effect on the Mexican cartels that move the vast majority of cocaine across the U.S.-Mexico border. Cocaine seizures along the border fell 28 percent between 2006 and 2010.

There is vigorous debate in federal law enforcement circles on what seizures say about the cartels’ drug strategy, whether the higher numbers reflect tougher law enforcement and whether falling numbers signify a shift from a particular drug like cocaine.

Officials believe flagging down fewer and progressively smaller loads of cocaine shows the marketplace downturn is affecting the cartels.

Whatever the case, cartels appear to be adding new revenue streams. Methamphetamine, for instance, is now part of the traffickers’ inventory. While seizures of cocaine along the border were in decline, those for methamphetamine (as well as the cartels’ traditional cash cows, marijuana and heroin) went up.

Other revenue streams

In addition, the cartels are diversifying into counterfeit computer software and pirated DVDs, as well as stolen car parts and human trafficking.

Further south, Colombian and Venezuelan traffickers have expanded cocaine exports to previously untapped markets overseas. In the past two years, huge cocaine shipments totaling 1,870 pounds destined for Europe, Asia and Africa have been intercepted in Nigeria and Ghana. In October 2010, Australian police seized 1,012 pounds of cocaine from two vessels.

Some cases involving DEA agents overseas read like they were ripped from the pages of a thriller. Three al-Qaida associates were arrested in Ghana in December 2009 and sent to the U.S. to face charges of transporting cocaine through West and North Africa, with the proceeds destined for al-Qaida affiliates and FARC, a longtime narco-terrorist guerilla army.

The DEA also has investigated links between the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah and shipments of cocaine through Africa to Europe and the Middle East.

Last week, Justice Department prosecutors in Washington’s Virginia suburbs charged Ayman Joumaa of Lebanon with cocaine smuggling and money laundering in a scheme involving Mexico’s Las Zetas trafficking gang. Earlier this year, the Treasury Department concluded that Hezbollah profited from Joumaa’s drug activities. Joumaa remains at large.

U.S. officials remain cautious about chances that the cocaine-use downturn is here to stay.

“When it comes to drugs, the U.S. has a bit of a memory problem,”‘ Kerlikowske said. “We don’t always recognize the dangers of something, and lo and behold it comes back.”

 

 

http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Cocaine-losing-its-allure-in-United-States-2410907.php

 

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