Pubdate: Tue, 20 Dec 2011
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2011 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Dan Freedman
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


Washington -- Once the glitterati's drug of choice, cocaine appears 
to have achieved the dubious status of a has-been drug, forcing drug 
cartels enriched from trafficking the white powder to find new 
markets and diversify their illicit products.

Between 2006 and 2010, domestic cocaine use declined 37 percent, 
according to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health. 
That's no blip on the screen.

Workplace drug tests proving positive for cocaine went down 65 
percent in the same time frame, according to data provided to the 
government by a major testing firm, Quest Diagnostics Inc.

And while the government-funded 2011 "Monitoring the Future" survey 
found teens consuming greater amounts of marijuana, cocaine rates 
plummeted to their lowest levels since the 1980s.

The numbers "should be heralded as basically very good news about 
cocaine," said R. Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National 
Drug Control Policy.

Use of crack, the smokable rock-crystal form of cocaine, is only a 
fraction of what it was in the 1980s and 1990s when it devastated 
inner-city neighborhoods.

Despite some regional and socioeconomic variations, "the crack 
epidemic, as it was, appears to be over," said Dr. Westley Clark, 
director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, a part of the 
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"Have we made progress? Yes, but there's still demand" for cocaine, 
he said. "It's not zero."

Experts point to several factors in explaining the decline in use. 
Colombia supplies more than 90 percent of the cocaine to the U.S. 
market. The Colombian government's crackdown there has reduced 
cocaine production by 60 percent since 2001.

Accordingly, the price of cocaine has gone up since 2007 while purity 
levels have gone down, according to Drug Enforcement Administration data.

Also, decades of drug education and prevention programs are having an 
effect, though it is unclear whether other drugs such as prescription 
painkillers, stimulants and "synthetic'" marijuana (marketed as 
"Spice" and "K2") are simply taking the place once occupied by cocaine.

The trend seems to be having an effect on the Mexican cartels that 
move the vast majority of cocaine across the U.S.-Mexico border. 
Cocaine seizures along the border fell 28 percent between 2006 and 2010.

While seizures alone are not proof, officials believe flagging down 
fewer and progressively smaller loads of cocaine shows the 
marketplace downturn is affecting the cartels.

"I clearly don't think it's a fluke," Kerlikowske said in an interview.

Whatever the case, cartels appear to be adjusting their business 
model in true corporate fashion by adding new revenue streams. 
Methamphetamines, for instance, are now part of the traffickers' 
inventory. While seizures of cocaine along the border were in 
decline, those for methamphetamines (as well as the cartels' 
traditional cash cows, marijuana and heroin) went up.

In addition, the cartels are diversifying into counterfeit computer 
software and pirated DVDs, as well as stolen car parts and human 
trafficking, including for sexual exploitation.

U.S. officials remain cautious about whether the cocaine-use downturn 
is here to stay.

"When it comes to drugs, the U.S. has a bit of a memory problem,'" 
Kerlikowske said. "We don't always recognize the dangers of 
something, and lo and behold it comes back."
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