Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Crack Cocaine

Being affectionately known as “Tha Hip Hop Doc” by the younger generation is an honor and I wear that title with pride. However, “Thug Doc” or “Gangsta Doc” is two other names I am frequently called by the inmates at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison. Believe it or not, these are terms of endearment and respect as I work at the prison everyday and see many of the inmates, mostly African American, at the two substance abuse clinics where I work as well. The majority of these individuals are African American men who live well below the poverty level and have long histories of substance abuse. The drug of choice for most of them is crack cocaine.

Cocaine is not new to the world as it has been around for hundreds of years. The leaves of the cocoa plant, from which cocaine is derived, where chewed like tobacco by tribes in South America to ease pain, stimulate or suppress appetite, and combat altitude sickness. It was noted by the tribesman that not only could they work longer but they also felt “happy” and euphoric. In the 1880s pure cocaine was used as a local anesthetic for nose, eye, and throat surgeries due to its abilities not only to provide anesthesia, but also to constrict blood vessels and reduce bleeding. And it is true that cocaine was one of several ingredients in the original Coca-Cola only to be removed in 1929 when the harmful side effects of the drug where noted. Some actually thought that cocaine would be the “miracle” drug of the future.

What was thought to be the wonder drug used in elixirs and tonics later became a drug of the rich and famous in the late 1970s. Snorting cocaine was considered to be in vogue and in some social circles were acceptable and fashionable. However, it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that crack cocaine emerged on to the scene. This cheap and relatively easy to make variant of powder cocaine got its name from the crackling sound it makes when it is heated and its vapors smoked. There was nothing in vogue about crack’s introduction to the United States and the initial impact was felt in poor African American communities.

The 2005 National Survey on Drug use and Health (NSDUH) stated that approximately 7.9 million Americans aged 12 or older reported trying crack cocaine at least once during their lifetimes. Adult’s ages 18 to 25 years old have a higher rate of cocaine use than those of other age groups and men have a higher rate of current crack cocaine use than do women. Crack cocaine has a strong correlation with HIV/AIDS, crime, incarceration, and homelessness. The question that I often ask the inmates and individuals in drug rehab is why? Why is this drug becoming an epidemic in our society?

If you only remember one concept from this article, remember that crack cocaine is highly addictive. There are two main forms of cocaine: the hydrochloride salt or powdered form which dissolves in water and can be injected into veins (intravenous use) or snorted (intranasal use); and the freebase form or crack which is when the compound has not been neutralized by an acid to make the hydrochloride salt. Because it is smoked, the user experiences a high in less than 10 seconds that causes an intense and immediate feeling of euphoria, which according to addicts, is indescribable. Crack is inexpensive to both produce and to buy making it the drug of choice for the poor. Even more alarming are the potential medical complications of crack cocaine abuse: high blood pressure, strokes, heart attacks, headaches, hallucinations, addiction, and even sudden death. Substance abuse, in general is linked to illness liked HIV because when one is under the influence of a drug they make poor decisions like having unprotected sex or using IV drugs.

Inpatient and outpatient substance abuse rehab are a must for individuals who have used crack cocaine. As a result of its highly addictive potential, long-term treatment that includes counseling and group therapy are paramount. We must also look at the laws and how individuals are prosecuted once convicted of cocaine use and ingestion. Crack cocaine, despite what some think, continues to be a big problem in our country. Effective drug policies need to be in place and support for the communities under attack by the drug lord are the only remedies for this problem. And in the words of the late Rick James: “Cocaine is a hell of a drug!”

(c) 2007 Rani Whitfield. This article was published October 2007 at

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