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p>Pure cocaine was first used in the 1880s as a local anesthetic in eye, nose, and throat surgeries because of its ability to provide anesthesia as well as to constrict blood vessels and limit bleeding. Many of its therapeutic applications are now obsolete due to the development of safer drugs. 1

Approximately 100 years after cocaine entered into use, a new variation of the substance emerged. This substance, crack, became enormously popular in the mid-1980s due in part to its almost immediate high and the fact that it is inexpensive to produce and buy. 2

Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug. The powdered, hydrochloride salt form of the drug can be snorted or dissolved in water and injected. Crack is cocaine that has not been neutralized by an acid to make the hydrochlorida salt. This form of cocaine comes in a rock crystal that can be heated and its vapors smoked. The term "crack" comes from the crackling sound made when it is heated. 3


Extent of Use

According to the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), approximately 8.6 million Americans aged 12 or older reported trying crack cocaine at least once during their lifetimes, representing 3.5% of the population aged 12 or older. Additional 2006 NSDUH data indicate that approximately 1.5 million (0.6%) reported past year crack cocaine use and 702,000 (0.3%) reported past month crack cocaine use. 4

The 2006 NSDUH results also indicate that there were 245,000 persons aged 12 or older who had used crack cocaine for the first time within the past 12 months. 5

Results of the 2007 Monitoring the Future survey indicate that 2.1% of eighth graders, 2.3% of tenth graders, and 3.2% of twelfth graders reported lifetime use of crack cocaine. In 2006, these percentages were 2.3%, 2.2%, and 3.5%, respectively. 6

Percent of Students Reporting Crack Cocaine Use, 2006–2007

8th Grade 10th Grade 12th Grade







Past month







Past year














Approximately 68.3% of eighth graders, 76.0% of tenth graders, and 63.6% of twelfth graders surveyed in 2007 reported that taking crack cocaine occasionally was a "great risk." 7

Percent of Students Reporting Risk of Using Crack Cocaine, 2007

Say "great risk" to:
8th Grade 10th Grade 12th Grade

Try crack once/twice




Take crack occasionally




Approximately 1.7% of college students and 4.1% of young adults (ages 19-28) surveyed in 2005 reported lifetime use of crack cocaine. 8

Percent of College Students/Young Adults Reporting Crack Use, 2004–2005

College Students Young Adults
2004 2005 2004 2005
Past month
Past year


Health Effects

Cocaine is a strong central nervous system stimulant. Physical effects of cocaine use, including crack, include constricted blood vessels and increased temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. Users may also experience feelings of restlessness, irritability, and anxiety. 10

Smoking crack delivers large quantities of the drug to the lungs, producing effects comparable to intravenous injection. These effects are felt almost immediately after smoking, are very intense, but do not last long. 11 For example, the high from snorting cocaine may last 15–30 minutes, while the high from smoking it may last 5–10 minutes. 12

Evidence suggests that users who smoke or inject cocaine may be at even greater risk of causing harm to themselves than those who snort the substance. Cocaine smokers may suffer from acute respiratory problems including coughing, shortness of breath, and severe chest pains with lung trauma and bleeding. 13

An added danger of cocaine use is when cocaine and alcohol are consumed at the same time. When these substances are mixed, the human liver combines cocaine and alcohol and manufactures a third substance, cocaethylene. This intensifies cocaine's euphoric effects, while also possibly increasing the risk of sudden death. 14 Most cocaine-related deaths are a result of cardiac arrest or seizures followed by respiratory arrest. 15

Cocaine is a powerfully addictive drug. A tolerance to the cocaine high may be developed and many addicts report that they fail to achieve as much pleasure as they did from their first cocaine exposure. 16

During 2002, emergency departments (ED) nationwide reported 42,146 crack mentions to the Drug Abuse Warning Network. Crack accounted for 21% of the total cocaine mentions during the year. The number of crack ED mentions has increased from 33,789 in 1995, but has decreased from 46,964 in 2001. 17



Crack cocaine represented 71% of all primary cocaine admissions to treatment in 2006. From 1996 to 2006, the number of admissions to treatment in which crack was the primary drug of abuse decreased from 195,751 in 1996 to 178,475 in 2006. Crack admissions represented 11.9% of the total drug/alcohol admissions to treatment during 1996 and 9.9% of the treatment admissions in 2006. The average age of those admitted to treatment for crack cocaine during 2006 was 38 years. Additionally, 49% of primary crack admissions were African American, 41% were white, and 8% were Hispanic. 18


Arrests & Sentencing

During FY 2004, cocaine was the primary drug involved in Federal drug arrests. There were 12,166 Federal drug arrests for cocaine in FY 2004. The DEA made 7,082 arrests for powder cocaine and 3,921 arrests for crack cocaine during FY 2004. 19

During FY 2006, there were 5,623 Federal defendants sentenced for crack cocaine-related charges in U.S. Courts. Approximately 96% of the cases involved crack cocaine trafficking. 20


Production & Trafficking

Crack is cocaine that has been processed from cocaine hydrochloride to a free base for smoking. Crack cocaine is processed with ammonia or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and water. It is then heated to remove the hydrochloride producing a form of cocaine that can be smoked. 21



Cocaine (all forms) was first Federally-regulated in December 1914 with the passage of the Harrison Act. This Act banned the non-medical use of cocaine; prohibited its importation; imposed the same criminal penalties for cocaine users as for opium, morphine, and heroin users; and required a strict accounting of medical prescriptions for cocaine. As a result of the Harrison Act and the emergence of cheaper, legal substances such as amphetamines, cocaine became scarce in the U.S. However, use began to rise again in the 1960s, prompting Congress to classify it as a Schedule II substance in 1970. 22

Schedule II substances have a high potential for abuse, a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States with severe restrictions, and may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. 23 While cocaine can currently be administered by a doctor for legitimate medical uses, such as a local anesthetic for some eye, ear, and throat surgeries, there are currently no medical uses for crack cocaine. 24


Street Terms 25

Common Terms Associated with Crack

Term Definition


Bingers Crack addicts Oolies Marijuana laced with crack
Geeker Crack user Rooster Crack
Jelly beans Crack
Moonrock Crack mixed with heroin Wicky stick PCP, marijuana, and crack


Other Links

A Collection of Articles That Address Research on Cocaine
This resource presents links to and full text of National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) research articles concerning cocaine.

Cocaine Abuse and Addiction
This report provides information on powder and crack cocaine abuse, effects, and describes effective treatment.

Cocaine Publications
A listing of powder and crack cocaine-related publications from various sources.

Common Drugs of Abuse: Cocaine
This site provides links to NIDA resources related to crack and cocaine.



1 Drug Enforcement Administration, Drugs of Abuse , 2005

2 National Institute on Drug Abuse, Cocaine Abuse and Addiction , November 2004

3 National Institute on Drug Abuse, InfoFacts: Crack and Cocaine , April 2006

4 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings , September 2007

5 Ibid.

6 National Institute on Drug Abuse and University of Michigan, 2007 Monitoring the Future Study Drug Data Tables, December 2007

7 Ibid.

8 National Institute on Drug Abuse and University of Michigan, Monitoring the Future 2005 Data From In-School Surveys of 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-Grade Students , December 2005

9 National Institute of Justice, Drug and Alcohol Use and Related Matters Among Arrestees, 2003 (PDF), 2004

10 National Institute on Drug Abuse, InfoFacts: Crack and Cocaine , April 2006

11 Drug Enforcement Administration Web site, Drug Descriptions: Cocaine

12 National Institute on Drug Abuse, InfoFacts: Crack and Cocaine , April 2006

13 Drug Enforcement Administration Web site, Drug Descriptions: Cocaine

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid.

17 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Emergency Department Trends from the Drug Abuse Warning Network, Final Estimates 1995–2002 , July 2003

18 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) Highlights—2006 , February 2008

19 Bureau of Justice Statistics, Compendium of Federal Justice Statistics, 2004 , December 2006

20 U.S. Sentencing Commission, 2006 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics , 2007

21 National Institute on Drug Abuse, InfoFacts: Crack and Cocaine , April 2006

22 U.S. Department of Justice, CIA-Contra-Crack Cocaine Controversy , Appendix C

23 Drug Enforcement Administration, Drugs of Abuse , 2005

24 National Institute on Drug Abuse, Cocaine: Abuse and Addiction (PDF), November 2004

25 Office of National Drug Control Policy, Drug Policy Information Clearinghouse, Street Terms: Drugs and the Drug Trade
Crack cocaine section