Grown in the countries of South America, with Columbia being the most productive, the Erythroxylon Coca bush is the natural origin of cocaine, a central nervous stimulant. Its history is as rich and diverse as the people using and dealing the drug.
Cocaine use dates as far back as the 16th century when it was used among Inca royalty. In the early 1800’s cocaine was introduced to Europe. Sigmond Freud wrote a song in its honor and famous author Robert Louis Stevenson wrote “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” during a six -day cocaine binge. In the early 1900’s cocaine was available to consumers over the counter. Its medicinal value was a relief for toothaches and congestion. Parke Davis advised their consumers of the effects of cocaine by stating that it “could make the coward brave, the silent eloquent, and render the sufferer insensitive to pain”.
The use of cocaine found its way into other products like wine and the most famous of all, Coca Cola. Early production of Coca Cola contained 60mg of cocaine. Today, the popular soft drink still uses the leaves of the Coco Bush for flavor but the illicit drug has been removed (www.cocaine.org).
The resurrection of cocaine use as a recreational drug began in the 1960’s, and was used mostly among the affluent because of its price. Movie stars, sport stars and the like give cocaine its mystique and draw; psychological and physical effects make it addictive. Changes in form and price make cocaine far more accessible and affordable. Today, there is no clear connection between the use of cocaine and education, occupation or socioeconomic status.
Cocaine is generally sold as a hydrochloride salt, a fine white powder substance that is commonly referred to as “snow”, “coke” or “blow”. Street dealers of cocaine commonly dilute, or “cut” the drug with similar looking substances like talcum powder or with active local anesthetics and even sometimes with other stimulants like amphetamines. The purity of street cocaine, powder form, is about 75 percent. When the impurities of this form are removed, it is known as “freebase” or “crack” cocaine. “Crack” cocaine is easier to find and less expensive to buy. Cocaine in any form can be found in almost every town and city. Research studies done in 1999 showed cocaine is used by over 3.7 million Americans 12 years old and over, with the highest rate among people 18 and 25 years of age. The use among people 35 years and older also continues to rise (www.cocaine.org).
The effects of cocaine depend on the route of administration, the amount of consumption, the user’s past experience, and the circumstances under which its taken. The major routes of administration are snorting, injecting, and smoking. Snorting is inhaling the powder form through the nasal cavity. The drug enters the bloodstream through the nasal tissues. Injecting cocaine is using a syringe to release the drug directly into the bloodstream. Smoking cocaine is inhaling the cocaine vapors or smoke delivering large quantities to the lungs where it then enters the bloodstream as quickly as injecting. Cocaine interferes with the re-absorption process of dopamine that is a chemical messenger of pleasure to the brain. The effects are instant and intense but not long lasting (www.drugs.indiana.edu).
The short -term effects usually make the user fell euphoric, energetic, and alert to their senses. It can decrease your anxiety and heighten your sexuality. Crack users have described the rush as a “whole body orgasm.” Or, a user can feel anxious or panic-stricken. The drug is a parody of heaven and hell. Often times the cocaine user craves other drugs. These symptoms appear quickly and disappear within a few minutes or a few hours. Physically, a person’s blood pressure, body temperature, heartbeat, and breathing accelerate, along with pupil dialation. In larger amounts the side effects intensify. The “high” might include feelings of paranoia, vertigo, and muscle twitches and physically a user might experience chest pains, nausea, blurred vision.
Over time with continued use, the effects of cocaine gradually change. Irritability, restlessness, insomnia and paranoia replace the euphoria. Physically, the long- term user will lose interest in sex and lose weight. Those who snort the drug wear out their nasal septum while those who inject it risk the chance of contracting hepatitis or AIDS. Cocaine related deaths are often a result of cardiac arrest or seizures followed by respiratory arrest. Over time, to the user’s tolerance, the drug will build. To achieve the same effects as that of early usage requires larger doses of the drug. The user becomes psychologically dependent. The drug becomes pivotal to their thoughts, feelings and their daily activities.
“Cocaine just made you feel really good. Then after you get done feeling really good then you start to get a Superman ego and that’s the beginning of the end.” (“Drug Wars”; A Frontline, PBS Production) Often times, cocaine addicts develop an illicit lifestyle to keep up with their drug habit. Cocaine’s influence leads a user to stealing from family, friends and even employers. The lifestyle of addicts becomes as corrupt as the organizations that produce and supply the product.
Cocaine’s addiction has two sides: the love of the high and the love of the money. The US Government has estimated that cocaine trafficking takes nearly $80 billion a year out of our economy. In 1990, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) estimated about 20 Colombian organizations controlled most of America’s cocaine supply. Annual revenues of the Colombian drug trade have been estimated to be 5 billion dollars. The drug cartels existing today control every phase of the drug trafficking business. They manufacture, transport, distribute, and finance cocaine. Like many large corporations, the business involves bankers, accountants, and lawyers, wholesalers and retailers. More special to this business the cartel “payroll” also includes chemists, pilots and enforcers of security (www.drugs.indiana.edu).
The cartels are structured in layers, at the center is the cartel manager or “kingpin”. Information shared among the members of the cartel is highly secularized. Only a choice few are privy to all the workings of the cartel. Those employees holding positions in the outer layers of the organization (the lawyers, accountants, bankers, and enforcers) reap the financial benefits of serving their bosses but are strictly put on a need to know basis. Cartels operating in the United States are referred to as “cells” which are “self contained organized units.”
The Medillin Cartel was the first known, successful cartel of cocaine traffickers coming from Colombia. It was established in 1978 and lead by Carlos Lehder. It used violence and intimidation to stay one step ahead of the justice system. The cartel bribed police officers with money or threatened them with death if they did not honor the cartel and look the other way when they did business. The Medellin Cartel was taken down in March of 1984. Carlos Lehder was arrested in 1987, tried in the United States and sentenced to 135 years without the possibility of parole. George Jung’s, the Medillin Cartel’s American contact, testimony against Lehder assured his conviction. In the 1990’s, on the heels of the Medillin, came the Cali Cartel. They are responsible for 70-80 percent of the cocaine coming into the United States and 90 percent of that entering Europe.
Instead of violence and intimidation like their counter parts, the Cali operated their business using a subtle approach. Law enforcement has had difficulty in closing the Cali operations for many reasons. Their structure is different from that of the Medillin, as is their methods of smuggling. They are much more conservative. They only sell to people they know. The “home office,” which is the CEO and vice presidents, coordinate the cells. The cells contact the buyers usually by cellular phone or pager and arrange the time and place to distribute the drugs. Payment is made at the second meeting. When the deal is done, the home office is contacted and accurate records are kept by both (www.awesomestories.com).
While the Colombians may monopolize the cocaine market, there are similar organizations in other countries. The Triads and Tongs of China, La Compania of Cuba, and the Yakuza of Japan are some other major drug trafficking organizations. They have successfully invested into legitimate American business. The one thing they all have in common: United States of America as a client base (www.cocainefacts.com).
Cocaine touches many people on a variety of levels. It can completely change a person’s personality, for the worse. It spins a web of deceit and destruction. Physically and mentally the drug tricks you from recognizing reality. Euphoria tricks you into believing that the high is good, all the while the time bomb is ticking. Blowing up your mind is just a matter of time.
Bailey, William J. Factline on Cocaine. 1995:
Heller, Matthew. “Addicted to Love.” Los Angeles Magazine. Sept. 1999.
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