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Stats Say Cocaine Use Is in Decline…But Is It for the Poor?

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This post is part of a collaborative narrative series composed of my writing and Chris Arnade’s photos exploring issues of addiction, poverty, prostitution and urban anthropology in Hunts Point, Bronx. For more on the series, look here.


The 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which is based on representative samples of people 12 and older, gives some indicators of cocaine’s decline:

• In 2011, there were 1.4 million cocaine users, about 0.5 percent of the population – down from 2.4 million (1 percent) in 2006.
• The number who first tried cocaine in the prior year dropped from 1 million in 2002 to 670,000 in 2011.
• The number who abused or were dependent on cocaine declined from 1.7 million in 2006 to 0.8 million in 2011.

The ONDCP also noted these encouraging national statistics in releasing its annual estimate this month:

• A 65 percent drop in the rate of people testing positive for cocaine in the workplace (from 72 out of every 10,000 tested in 2006 to 25 in 2012).
• A 44 percent drop in overdose deaths related to cocaine (from 7,448 in 2006 to 4,183 in 2010).

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health, several experts note, is based on interviews and therefore may understate usage levels. It also doesn’t capture data from homeless or incarcerated people.¹

Rachel: Hunts Point, Bronx
Rachel: Hunts Point, Bronx. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.

Rachel paced the block, flip flops slapping plastic echoes against the sidewalk. She could walk through mud like air. Her eyes scanned the night’s street, looking for someone, anyone. Preferably a date.

Her hands played small games of erratic circles by her sides. She hung on a car window, began conversation in the middle instead of the beginning.

“I relapsed today, but so what, you know, I’m clean and sober otherwise. I got a $200 gadget on me if I really wanted to get high. That’s how you know I don’t need coke like that.”

She held up her phone, screen too wide for a pocket, especially a hidden one in skin-tight pants.

She isn’t one of those desperate girls. She played with her turquoise nails, the ring finger studded with glued-on rhinestones.

“I get bored without my kids. They’re away for the summer.”

Kids keep her grounded, keep her coming home to cook dinner and be responsible. Thank god for them. Now that they’re away it’s OK to want to have fun.

The coke is the good time, but it means she has to get her ass up and work the block.

Too bad that after a few days it grabs and tugs on her, capsizing her ability to hold down an apartment. Too bad she can’t seem to stop using after she starts again. Too bad she’s vanished from home for days to smoke crack on an drug runner apartment’s couch.

She still has her phone, which she’s not selling, so she’s got it together. Thank god it isn’t that bad.

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Cassie Rodenberg About the Author: I write on culture, poverty, addiction, and mental illness: I explore things we like to ignore. I also teach public school in New York City's South Bronx. Follow on Twitter @cassierodenberg.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. tsurman7 5:18 pm 10/9/2013

    I will do my best to find a link to the graphic but I have seen data that suggests when one substance, let’s say cocaine, is on the decline in reported cases of use, another substance, let’s say heroin, begins to rise. As far as missing data for the homeless and those in prison, good question!

    Link to this

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