Cocaine Addiction as a Major Social and Health Issue in the United States

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One of the most consistent major public health and social problems in the United States today is the use of cocaine. In 1991, the National Institute on Drug Abuse conducted Household Survey which gathers data across the US and reported that around 23 million Americans had experienced using cocaine. During the past decades, deaths from cocaine were also reported because of medical complications by common users. The spread and popularity of cocaine was caused by a huge illegal network that has the capability to manufacture, import and distribute this deadly addictive narcotic drug secretly all over America even though authorities are always at hot pursuit. Cocaine use was accountable to the lost of productivity, job-related accidents and health and care benefit claims of workers which cause the loss of billions of dollars a year.

Cocaine can greatly affect our bodily system and frequent use can contribute to a short or long term effects in the brain as well as other organs of our body. Known as the “crack” during the 1980s, the use of this dangerous chemical has changed its pattern of use since its introduction in the market. With these changes, the treatment has changed as well but still so much research effort were undertaken in discovering ways to help cocaine-dependent patients cope up with their lives again. Cocaine became more popular during the 1980s because no other drug with much glamour and notoriety can rival its efficacy with extra-ordinary effects. The rich and famous loved it and depended on it to be more active but many celebrities and athletes died from it because of overdose.  It was a known fact that cocaine mainly comes from South American countries because they have uncontrolled laws and strong syndicate base.

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The US government’s “War on Drugs” is an indication that indeed there is danger in using cocaine. More than $10 billion dollars were allotted just to fund government programs against the control and use of cocaine in 1991 alone. Because of extensive campaigns against it somehow its availability in the US has been significantly controlled. With the help of the National Institute on Drug Use, the number of users declined from 5.8 million users in 1985 to about 1.9 million in 1991.

To understand the effect of cocaine to man we have to understand on how cocaine has played a significant and insignificant role in man’s history. The coca plant, Erythroxylon coca has in its leaves powerful stimulant drug but its effect has not been recognized until the mid-19th century. Surprisingly, Peruvian grave sites approximately dating back from 500 A.D. were discovered by archeologists and found out that inside every tomb there are coca leaves as well.

This historical finding indicates that coca leaves for some reasons has played major benefits to the Peruvians and thought to be of use even to the other world where the souls arrive.

When the Spaniards conquered the Peruvian Incas in the 16th century, the use of coca was momentarily banned because accordingly it is a barrier to religious conversion for the Incas. However, the conquistadores also found out that when the Incas chew the leaves of this plant and be under the influence of its properties, they become strong and energized which enabled them to work more hours in gold and silver mines without getting tired. For some good reasons in favor on the part of the Spaniards the use of cocaine by the Incas was only regulated. So in 1569, Philip II of Spain declared that coca plant is the primary plant that is essential for Indian’s health. The Spaniards recognizing the benefits of coca to the Indians have come to the point that they were paying the Incas coca leaves instead of food or money.

After so many years in use by the natives of South America, samples of cocaine plant were taken to Europe in 1855 for study. German scientists study its potential ingredients and found out about its active chemical component which they call erythroxyline. In 1859, the compound was once again isolated for further study and because the compound is primarily derived from the coca plant it was renamed into “cocaine” But among all scientists who have taken interest with cocaine, it was Sigmund Freud who made the most significant and extensive study on cocaine by using it. In his published journal in July 1884, he wrote an article entitled “On Coca” which described the effect of cocaine when taken by man. Accordingly, cocaine has a psychic effect which brought about exhilaration and lasting euphoria but it also contributes losing of self-control while feeling stronger in physical aspect. He also emphasized the drug’s capability to act as anesthetic and he stresses its possible use as a stimulant and an aphrodisiac, treatment for depression, stomach disturbances, alcoholism and chemical in controlling morphine addiction (Weiss, Mirin, & Bartel, 1994).

In 1870, French chemist Angelo Mariani introduced coca to the public through coca lozenges and coca tea. He also created the coca wine Vin Mariani which made him popular and respected during that era. According to him what led him to produce and sell the wine is because of the healing properties it contains and as a tonic-stimulant which helps condition and removed stress from tired bodies. He confirmed that it also prevents malaria, influenza and other diseases. Mariani was praised all over Europe by the most important people thanking him for his contribution to humanity. In the United States, however, the use of the drug in other form is about to take place. Parke, Davis and Company laced cigarettes with coca and also made coca syrups. In 1982, chocolate cocaine tablets were introduced in the journal “The Chemist and Druggist” and proclaimed as cure for the common colds. In other words, it was patented in many forms to cure different ailments.

Because of their belief in Freud’s theories, doctors in the United States use the cocaine on themselves to find out the effect of cocaine as an anesthetic. In some parts of the world like Germany, physician William Steward Halsted injected cocaine in his peripheral nerves to test the cocaine’s pain blocking ability but found out that with constant injection, he has developed an addiction to it. This led to many investigations on the negative effect of cocaine and soon after scientific literatures present findings about the addictive and harmful effects of cocaine which can contribute toxic reactions like cocaine-related stroke, cardiac arrhythmias and toxicity in the system (Platt, 2000).

However, cocaine use has not been altered because there were no physical data to prove its effect to man and future hazard to the society. But during the past decades cocaine trends begin to build up as more people become hooked to it. The crack has gained its popularity as crack users and gangsters begin to proliferate and cause troubles to society. Crack begins to dominate the lead position for illicit drug marketed in the street. Runners put the crack crystals on small plastic vials in different sizes and sell it ranging from $10 to $20 in the streets of New York. Not long after, crack has developed its own subculture creating its own language and different accessories for its use. Crack houses are almost everywhere and crack-for-sex that is particularly engaged by women became a practice in all crack houses. Crack runners began to compete ready to buy users whenever they want and over the decades millions of crack addicts or “crack heads” are in every corners of New York (Joseph, Quattrochi, & Stimmel, 1996).

Suddenly the government realized the widespread damaged caused by crack and now putting its iron fist to stop further deterioration of many Americans. The Drug Enforcement Administration conducted a study on how cocaine is being passed in the market and how much the proliferation of cocaine has penetrated the human societies in the United States. The Administration’s chemists found out that among the money randomly collected in the streets, more than one third of the bills have cocaine traces in them. Even conveyor belts in Federal Reserve machineries have also traces of the drug. However, federal judges conferred that such findings are not enough evidence to convict people who have the money without direct evidence of the crime (G., 1993).

Cocaine has many names among users. Aside from crack, some call it coke, snow or blow depending on its form. Cocaine hydrochloride is the main chemical component of cocaine and it stimulates the central nervous system of man which interferes with the re-absorption of dopamine, the chemical that is associated with our senses of pleasure and movement. Most commonly grown in South America because of the favorable environment for its growth, the leaves of the cocaine plant can produce white powder when chemically processed and produce a cracking sound when it undergoes heating process thus the “crack” brand. Cocaine can be produced in the form of crystals which users put on vials.

There are many ways how users use cocaine. Some snort it in powdered form; others smoke it in crystal form while heating it. But for more potential effect heavy users liquefy the crystal through heating and injected it directly through their vein. Snorting cocaine begins to take effect only after few minutes of inhaling it and the effect may last from 15 to 30 minutes depending on the dose and tolerance of the user. Smoking it in crack or in free-base form has faster effect but its potency once in the system easily wears off. When cocaine is injected directly into the vein, however, the effects are most immediate and more intense. Unfortunately when the human body began to form dependence to euphoric sensory feelings, addiction takes place which end up with more usage and lead to overdose. The result becomes too dangerous and deadly.

Addiction to cocaine develops when cocaine releases dopamine which over-stimulates the brain. Once under the influence of cocaine, a feeling of euphoria, confidence, hyper-stimulation and alertness comes into place. In some people, cocaine reduces their appetite while others get to be talkative. However when the pleasure quickly wears off the feeling of euphoria will suddenly turn to irritability, restlessness, anxiety, insomnia, depression, paranoia, aggression and physical pain and these are all signs of withdrawal symptoms.

There are short-term and long-term effects of using cocaine. The short-term effects may include being erratic, delusional, paranoid, violent and psychotic especially when taken in high dosage. The long-term effect are more severe and the symptoms include cardiovascular problems, insomnia, sexual dysfunction, headaches, neurological syndromes that affects brain and the heart, pulmonary disorders, psychiatric complications, aggressive or violent tendencies and even prone to HIV infections and other related blood infection (“Cocaine,” 2008).

Since so many complications can be derived with cocaine addiction, one of the key factors to remain safe from it is the avoidance of “gateway drugs”. The so called gateway drugs include softer brain stimulants such as marijuana and alcohol. An addiction to gateway drugs can lead to the use of harder drugs like cocaine and other drugs in the illegal market. Teens are more likely to use gateway drugs because as studies show teens aged 12-17 are most prone to consume alcohol and using marijuana and they are also 266 times more likely to use cocaine than those who are non-alcohol drinkers or non-marijuana users. In adults, the possibility of using cocaine is 323 times because of their familiarity with alcohol and marijuana (CocaineAbuse.US).

However there is still future for those who are under the addiction of cocaine and the main goal of drug addiction treatment is to make the individual achieve lasting abstinence, reduce then eliminate drug abuse, improve the ability to function and minimize the social and medical complications of drug addiction. Recovery for those who are dependent from cocaine can be a long-term process which sometimes necessitates multiple episodes of treatment. Counseling and behavioral therapies are two of the most critical components of treatment while medications for certain types of disorders are some of the elements in treating addiction.

Detoxification is also a dominant process in the therapeutic treatment process to remove withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse. Sometimes medications are needed to re-establish normal brain function and some of the most effective medications widely used today are the methadone and buprenorphine for the treatment of opiate addiction (NIDA, 2008).


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Cocaine Addiction as a Major Social and Health Issue in the United States. (2016, Sep 24). Retrieved from

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