Cocaine Use On The Rebound, DEA Says

By Kelly Burch 10/27/17

A new assessment highlights the resurgence of cocaine across the US. 

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Cocaine consumption is on the rise, with the drug easily available in most areas of the country, according to the DEA's 2017 National Drug Assessment released on Monday. 

“In 2016 and 2017, multiple DEA [offices] reported increases in the quantity and purity of cocaine available,” the report said (Page 88). First-time use of cocaine within the past year rose 26% between 2014 and 2015, and workplace drug tests that were positive for cocaine increased 12% between 2015 and 2016, according to the report (Page 89).

Cocaine-related overdose deaths increased 25.2% between 2014 and 2015, reaching the highest levels in nine years. In Miami, cocaine killed more people than any other year since the DEA began issuing the yearly report in 2001 (Page 90).

The report's findings do not come as a surprise, since there has been increased attention on cocaine use over the past year. In March the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) released a report showing that cocaine deaths rose 54% between 2012 and 2015, and that the number of people using cocaine rose 26% between 2014 and 2015. 

In August, one Coast Guard official warned of a "tsunami of cocaine" headed for the United States, as cocaine production increases in Colombia. That country is responsible for 92% of the cocaine supply in the United States, according to the DEA report. 

"I talk about it as really an approaching tsunami of cocaine getting ready to hit the global market,” said Coast Guard Adm. Christopher Tomney, the director of Joint Interagency Task Force South, at the time.

Cocaine can be dangerous on its own, but has become deadlier as drug dealers lace it with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid. In New York City a mixture of cocaine and fentanyl (without heroin) was blamed for 37% of overdose deaths last year.  

“The emergence of cocaine mixed with fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances in select markets is a potential trend of concern,” the DEA report notes (Page 88). The trend has been reported on in Florida, Massachusetts, New York and most recently in Tennessee, but remains relatively rare around the country, the report said. 

The DEA report also noted the extreme measures that traffickers will go to in order to get cocaine to the lucrative U.S. market. In July of 2016, divers found cocaine anchored to the ocean floor submerged in 50 feet of water. Officials believe that traffickers used GPS technology to locate the drugs and arrange separate drop-off and pick-up times to evade detection (Page 95).

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.