Drug use and addiction can have powerful effects on a person’s body and mind. However, these substances will most likely impact others, whether it is family, peers or anyone else in an individual’s social network. When this negative influence spreads, it can build into a public issue of concern. The United States has a long history with trends of drug use and the related problems that arise. Even in sunny California, the dark cloud of cocaine addiction casts a dark shadow over various populations.
The history of cocaine and crack use in the U.S.
Over the course of a few decades, the use of cocaine has experienced a rise and fall. From the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s monumental “Monitoring the Future” report, the nationwide waves of drug use between 1975 and 2013 tell a tumultuous story of struggle for many people. In California from 1976 to 1979, cocaine underwent a substantial increase in popularity among 12th graders, with its yearly usage doubling in only three years from 6 percent to 12 percent. The prevalence of cocaine leveled out until 1985 when more significant increases occurred.
Although the administrative actions that began the United States’ war on drugs took place well within the 1970s, the social action against drug use reached its peak in the 1980s. According to a 1986 Gallup poll, the overall ideology of the United States had already taken a noticeable turn by that point. One question asked Americans, “Which one of the following do you think is the MOST serious problem for society today: Marijuana, alcohol abuse, heroin, crack, other forms of cocaine or other drugs?” The results showed that “crack” was chosen by 42 percent of respondents. Also, “other forms of cocaine” was reported 8 percent more than “alcohol abuse” even though there were far more alcoholics than crack addicts at the time.
Apart from rising statistical prevalence, many other reasons contributed to the heightened awareness of cocaine. According to the textbook, “Moral Panics: The Social Construction of Deviance,” by sociologists Erich Goode and Nachman Ben-Yehuda, politically associated initiatives such as Nancy Reagan’s “Just say no” campaign were particularly successful in persuading many Americans against drug use.
However, an even larger driving force behind this established consensus was media. News sources began to report heavily on the explosive rise of crack cocaine use all across the U.S., while in reality it was only a substantial problem in certain New York City and Los Angeles neighborhoods. In addition, multiple spotlights focused on the recent deaths of cocaine-abusing athletes, prominent anti-drug spokesmen and a number of related topics that continued the national conversation of addiction in people’s minds.
Researchers Levine and Reinarman summed up this moral crisis that took place during the period through their 1987, 1988 and 1989 sociological texts. The authors described 1980s America as, “in the throes of a drug scare… [that] takes a kernel of truth and distorts and exaggerates the facts for political, bureaucratic, or financial purposes. During a drug scare all kinds of social problems are blamed on the use of one chemical substance or another—problems which have little to do with the drug.”
Current cocaine statistics
Soon after its public explosion, cocaine’s usage sharply declined. Specifically between 1986 and 1992, annual use of cocaine dropped from 12.7 to 3.1 percent among 12th grade students. Likewise, monthly use also decreased from 6.2 percent to 1.3 percent. This downward trend has continued on since then as well.
Nowadays, the climate of drug-related trends is much different. According to a 2010 report from the White House, the number of drug abuse treatment episodes for cocaine was measured at almost 10,000 compared to more prevalent substances like heroin and marijuana. The current leader is stimulants, which measured closer to 40,000 episodes, while cocaine is now ranked fourth.
More statistics from the Office of National Drug Control Policy show similar findings, as California’s most prominent drug of treatment admissions was stimulants. National trends depict an abundance of admissions for marijuana and a growing trend of heroin usage. From this combination of data, cocaine abuse and addiction appears to be on the decline.
Newest progress in policy
In addition to social progress, California has also made significant legislative improvements to how law enforcement prosecutes and punishes drug offenders. Governor Jerry Brown officially struck down the previous standard and signed the California Fair Sentencing Act in September of 2014. In addition to lowering the strict sentences for the possession of crack or powdered cocaine, many experts also praise the new law’s implications for the biased incarceration of African Americans and other low socioeconomic demographics.
As the United States marches forward in a positive direction, many more progressive changes are soon to come to the policy as well as public opinion regarding various substances, from cocaine to stimulants. Sovereign Health of California not only delves into the worlds of mental and behavioral health, but also addresses the assorted issues tied to substance abuse and addiction. If you, a family member or someone you know is trying to cope with a serious case of drug dependency, contact us immediately for a host of resources. Visit us online and live chat or call (866) 819-0427 for more information.
Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer