Cocaine Abuse & Addiction

Charlie, coke, snow

Cocaine has no social boundaries. It's the champagne drug of celebrities yet many addicts are beggars and prostitutes.

Known as Charlie, coke, C, dust, gold dust, snow, it's the world's most powerful stimulant of natural origin and its use dates back 5,000 years.

In its pure form cocaine is a white crystalline powder taken from the leaves of the South American coca plant. On the street, pure cocaine is diluted or "cut" with other substances to increase the quantity.

Users often snort the powder as it can be quickly absorbed into the bloodstream giving an almost immediate high, or it can be injected. It can also be heated into a liquid and its fumes inhaled through a pipe in a method called "freebasing." This is a common method of using crack cocaine - cocaine cut with baking soda - but is extremely dangerous as it introduces high concentrations of the drug into the bloodstream.

The leaves of the coca plant can also be eaten and there is coca paste which is low grade stuff which can be mixed with tobacco and smoked.

Whichever way it's taken cocaine is highly addictive. In research studies, animals addicted to cocaine preferred the drug to food, even when it meant they would starve. Many users are hooked after just one use, although others find they can take it or leave it.

It's the addictive nature of the drug and addicts' willingness to pay a high price for it that has catapulted it into the public eye. The crime and violence associated with its transportation and sale has kept cocaine in the news.

Cocaine Abuse and Crime Figures

Cocaine and street crime have become soul mates, especially in the western world. During 2001, London saw an explosion in gang violence and street crime apparently caused by crack addicts desperate to get their hands on the stuff - there were 21 drug related murders and 67 attempted murders that year. British police believe a significant proportion of these crimes were down to in fighting between the major crack suppliers (the Jamaican Yardie gangs).

The drug is now an integral part of the world economy. In the past few decades it has become a significant export earner for many poor South American countries such as Peru , Bolivia and Columbia .

Drug cartels operating mainly from South America and Jamaica are raking in billions. In Mexico alone the drugs trade is worth around £20 billion a year and in Columbia the figure is likely to be even higher, according to the US Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA).

The International Drug Control Programme estimated in 2001 that cocaine was used by 0.3% of the global population with more than 70% of users living in North or South America and 16% in Europe . Abuse levels in North America were seven times the world average while Asians and eastern Europeans were noticeably abstemious. The IDCP says Europe's two biggest cocaine markets - the UK and Spain - have stabilised thanks to a crackdown on dealers by drug enforcement agencies.

Because it is an expensive drug it tends to be used by an older more affluent crowd who are quite happy to dip in and out of their emotions for about £20 per half a gram. But it has no real social barriers and is equally at home with the destitute who beg, borrow, steal and even kill for it.

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