Drug Facts - Cocaine


Pure cocaine was first used in the 1880s in eye, nose, and throat surgeries as an anesthetic and for its ability to constrict blood vessels and limit bleeding. However, many of its therapeutic applications are now obsolete because of the development of safer drugs.

Cocaine is the most potent stimulant of natural origin. This substance can be snorted, smoked, or injected. When snorted, cocaine powder is inhaled through the nose where it is absorbed into the bloodstream through the nasal tissues. When injected, the user uses a needle to release the drug directly into the bloodstream. Smoking involves inhaling cocaine vapor or smoke into the lungs where absorption into the bloodstream is as rapid as by injection. Each of these methods of administration pose great risks to the user.

Crack is cocaine base that has not been neutralized by an acid to make the hydrochloride salt. This form of cocaine comes in a rock crystal that is heated to produce vapors, which are smoked. The term “crack” refers to the crackling sound produced by the rock as it is heated.

Extent of Use

According to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 36.8 million Americans aged 12 and older had tried cocaine at least once in their lifetimes, representing 14.7% of the population aged 12 and older. Approximately 5.3 million (2.1%) has used cocaine in the past year and 1.9 million (0.7%) had used cocaine within the past month.

In 2008, there were 722,000 persons aged 12 or older who had used cocaine for the first time within the past 12 months; this averages to approximately 2,000 initiates per day. This estimate was significantly lower than the number in 2007 (906,000). The annual number of cocaine initiates declined from 1.0 million in 2002 to 722,000 in 2008.

Among students surveyed as part of the 2008 Monitoring the Future study, 3.0% of eighth graders, 4.5% of tenth graders, and 7.2% of twelfth graders reported lifetime use of cocaine. In 2007, these percentages were 3.1%, 5.3%, and 7.8%, respectively.

Approximately 62.7% of eighth graders, 71.1% of tenth graders, and 61.6% of twelfth graders surveyed in 2008 reported that taking powder cocaine occasionally was a “great risk.” Additionally, approximately 82.5% of 12th graders surveyed in 2008 reported that using powder cocaine regularly was a “great risk.”

Regarding the ease by which one can obtain powder cocaine, 19.5% of eighth graders, 28.2% of tenth graders, and 38.9% of twelfth graders surveyed in 2008 reported that powder cocaine was "fairly easy" or "very easy" to obtain.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also conducts a survey of high school students throughout the United States, the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS). Among students surveyed in 2007, 7.2% reported using some form of cocaine at least one time during their life. 3.3% reported being current users of cocaine, meaning that they had used cocaine at least once during the past month.

Approximately 8.5% of college students and 14.7% of young adults (ages 19–28) surveyed in 2007 reported lifetime use of cocaine.

According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, approximately 46.8% of State prisoners and 43.3% of Federal prisoners surveyed in 2004 indicated that they used cocaine/crack at some point in their lives.

Health Effects

Cocaine is a strong central nervous system stimulant. Physical effects of cocaine use include constricted blood vessels and increased temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. Users may also experience feelings of restlessness, irritability, and anxiety.

Evidence suggests that users who smoke or inject cocaine may be at even greater risk of causing harm to themselves than those who snort the substance. For example, cocaine smokers also suffer from acute respiratory problems including coughing, shortness of breath, and severe chest pains with lung trauma and bleeding. A user who injects cocaine is at risk of transmitting or acquiring diseases if needles or other injection equipment are shared.

A tolerance to the cocaine high may be developed and many addicts report that they fail to achieve as much pleasure as they did from their first cocaine exposure. Some users will increase their dose in an attempt to intensify and prolong the euphoria, but this can also increase the risk of adverse psychological or physiological effects.

The duration of cocaine’s immediate euphoric effects depends upon the route of administration. The faster the absorption, the more intense the high. Also, the faster the absorption, the shorter the duration of action. The high from snorting is relatively slow in onset, and may last 15 to 30 minutes, while that from smoking may last 5 to 10 minutes.

Cocaine continues to be the most frequently mentioned illicit substance reported to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) by hospital emergency departments (ED) nationwide. During 2002, it was mentioned 199,198 times and was present in 30% of the ED drug episodes during the year. While cocaine ED mentions were statistically unchanged from 2001 to 2002, they have increased 47% since 1995 when there were 135,711 mentions.

Of an estimated 113 million emergency department (ED) visits in the U.S. during 2006, the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) estimates that 1,742,887 were drug-related. DAWN data indicate that cocaine was involved in 548,608 ED visits.


From 1997 to 2007, the number of admissions to treatment for cocaine decreased from 236,770 in 1997 to 234,772 in 2007. Cocaine admissions represented 14.7% of the total drug/alcohol admissions to treatment during 1997 and 12.9% of the treatment admissions in 2007.

Broken down by type of cocaine, the number of treatment admissions for non-smoked cocaine increased from 61,870 in 1997 to 66,858 in 2007 and admissions for smoked cocaine decreased from 174,900 in 1997 to 167,914 in 2007. The average age of those admitted to treatment for cocaine in 2007 was 39 years for smoked cocaine, compared with 34 years for non-smoked cocaine admissions.

Arrests & Sentencing

During FY 2004, cocaine was the primary drug involved in Federal drug arrests. There were 12,166 Federal drug arrests for cocaine in FY 2004. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) made 7,082 arrests for powder cocaine and 3,921 arrests for crack cocaine during FY 2004.

During FY 2008, there were 5,889 Federal offenders sentenced for powder cocaine-related charges and 6,168 sentenced for crack cocaine charges in U.S. Courts. Approximately 98.0% of the powder cocaine cases and 95.9% of the crack cocaine cases involved trafficking. Approximately 0.5% of both powder and crack cocaine cases involved simple possession.

The Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) II program is designed to gather information on drug use and related matters from adult male offenders within 48 hours of arrest. ADAM II serves as a critical source of data for estimating trends in drug use in local areas, understanding the relationship between drugs and crime, and describing drug market activity in the adult male arrestee population in 10 U.S. sites during 2008. ADAM II self-report data indicate that crack cocaine use is higher in most sites when compared to powder cocaine use.

Production & Trafficking

Cocaine is extracted from the leaves of the coca plant, which is indigenous to the Andean highlands of South America. Much of the cocaine available in the United States is transported from South American nations, particularly Colombia, through the Mexico-Central America Corridor. Despite increasingly aggressive coca eradication efforts, U.S. Government estimates of coca cultivation in South America indicate that cocaine producers potentially produced 970 metric tons of pure cocaine in 2006, a 7% increase from 910 metric tons in 2005 and the highest level since 2002.

During the spring of 2007 Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in several U.S. drug markets reported that cocaine availability decreased and that cocaine shortages were apparent in their jurisdictions. Cocaine shortages were most evident in the Great Lakes, New England, and Mid-Atlantic Regions of the country, but some major drug markets outside these areas also reported indications of decreased cocaine availability. These markets include Atlanta, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and San Francisco.

Analysis of cocaine purchases submitted for forensic examination by the DEA corroborates intelligence regarding the decline in domestic cocaine availability. From January through June 2007, the average price per pure gram of all domestic cocaine purchases increased 24%, from $95.89 to $118.70, while purity fell 11%, from 67% to 59%.

Epidemiologic sources indicate that prices for powder cocaine range from $20–$30 per gram in New York to $100 in Bangor (Maine), Cincinnati and Minneapolis and can cost as much as $200 per gram in Baltimore and Honolulu. Crack cocaine tends to have a low end street price $10 in such cities as Chicago, Baltimore, Boston and San Diego.

According to 2006 Federal-wide Drug Seizure System (FDSS) data, Federal agencies seized 150,738.7 kilograms of cocaine. FDSS contains information about drug seizures made within the jurisdiction of the United States by the DEA, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Customs Service, U.S. Border Patrol, and U.S. Coast Guard.


Cocaine was first Federally-regulated in December 1914 with the passage of the Harrison Act. This Act banned non-medical use of cocaine; prohibited its importation; imposed the same criminal penalties for cocaine users as for opium, morphine, and heroin users; and required a strict accounting of medical prescriptions for cocaine. As a result of the Harrison Act and the emergence of cheaper, legal substances such as amphetamines, cocaine became scarce in the U.S. However, use began to rise again in the 1960s, prompting Congress to classify it as a Schedule II substance in 1970. Schedule II substances have a high potential for abuse, a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States with severe restrictions, and may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. Cocaine can currently be administered by a doctor for legitimate medical uses, such as a local anesthetic for some eye, ear, and throat surgeries.

Taken from the Office of National Drug Control Policy Website.