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The Statistics on Cocaine Use in 2019: How Popular Is It?

Cocaine is a very powerful central nervous system stimulant drug that is refined from coca leaves. The coca plant, Erythroxylum coca, is found in Central and South America. Cocaine is an alkaloid derivative that is refined from the leaves of the plant.

Although it is illegal for private citizens to possess cocaine, the drug does have medicinal uses and is classified in the Schedule II category of controlled substances by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This classification means the drug has some recognized medicinal uses, but it is also a significant drug of abuse with the serious potential to produce physical dependence in people who use it.

The drug is rarely (if ever) prescribed in the United States. Its medicinal uses remain limited to use as a local anesthetic and as an agent to constrict blood vessels and veins by physicians performing oral or nasal surgery.

Cocaine Abuse

Cocaine is typically snorted, injected, or smoked. The drug mainly affects the neurotransmitter dopamine, but it also affects other neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine and serotonin, by blocking their reuptake mechanism.

When a drug blocks the reuptake of the neurotransmitter, it remains available in the brain, enhancing its ability to produce euphoria and stimulation. The stimulation from cocaine typically doesn’t last long, and individuals abusing the drug will binge on multiple doses to maintain the euphoric feelings.  

Crack cocaine is even more potent than powdered cocaine. Crack is typically smoked, making the delivery of the drug to the brain more efficient but also producing extremely short-lasting effects.

 

Overall Statistics on Cocaine Use

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), abuse of cocaine in the United States has remained relatively steady since the early 2000s with a recent increase in cocaine use. This is most likely due to strict enforcement of methamphetamine abuse and individuals who wish to abuse stimulants seeking an alternative.

There isn’t yet data regarding cocaine use in 2019. The latest SAMHSA statistics are from 2017.

According to the figures from SAMHSA, the following was found regarding cocaine use:

  • In 2016, more than 38.8 million people over the age of 12 admitted to at least one-lifetime use of cocaine. In 2017, this figure was 40.6 million individuals.
  • In 2016, 5.1 million individuals admitted to using cocaine within the year before the survey. In 2017, this figure was 5.9 million.
  • In 2016, 1.9 million individuals admitted to using cocaine at least once in the month before the survey. In 2017, this figure was 2.2 million.

The figures for crack cocaine use are:

  • In 2016, 8.8 million individuals admitted to at least one-lifetime use of crack. In 2017, this figure was 9.6 million.
  • In 2016, 882,000 individuals admitted to past-year use of crack. In 2017, this figure was 930,000.
  • In 2016, 432,000 individuals admitted to using crack within the month before the survey. In 2017, this figure was 473,000.

Cocaine Use by Adolescents

SAMHSA also provides estimates for drug use by age group

  • In 2016, it was estimated that 212,000 individuals between the ages of 12 and 17 had some lifetime use of cocaine. In 2017, this figure was 169,000.
  • In 2016, it was estimated that 136,000 individuals between 12 and 17 years old used cocaine within the year before the survey. In 2017, this estimate was 127,000.
  • In 2016, it was estimated that 28,000 individuals between 12 and 17 years old used cocaine within the month before the survey. In 2017, this estimate was 26,000.

Crack cocaine use increased in younger individuals between 2016 and 2017

  • In 2016, 17,000 individuals between ages 12 and 17 admitted to some lifetime use of crack. In 2017, this figure was 31,000.
  • In 2016, 11,000 individuals between ages 12 and 17 admitted to using crack in the year before the survey. In 2017, this figure was 16,000.

More Adolescent Data

The Monitoring the Future Study is an ongoing investigation of attitudes, behavior, and values of American students and young adults. Every year, about 50,000 students between grades eight and 12 are surveyed and given follow-up questions.

According to the latest data from this study in 2018:

  • For eighth-graders, 1.4 percent admitted to some lifetime use of cocaine; 0.8 percent admitted to past-year use of cocaine; and 0.3 percent admitted to past-month use of cocaine (the month before taking the survey).
  • For ninth-graders, 2.6 percent admitted to some lifetime use of cocaine; 1.5 percent admitted to past-year use of cocaine; and 0.6 percent admitted to past-month use of cocaine.
  • For 10th-graders, 3.9 percent admitted to some lifetime use of cocaine; 2.3 percent admitted to past-year use of cocaine; and 1.1 percent admitted to past-month use of cocaine.

In terms of students admitting to crack cocaine use in 2018:

  • For eighth-graders, lifetime use was 0.9 percent; past-year use was 0.4 percent; and past-month use was 0.2 percent.
  • For ninth-graders, lifetime use was 1 percent; past-year use was 0.6 percent; and past-month use was 0.3 percent.
  • For 10th-graders, lifetime use was 1.5 percent; past-year use was 0.9 percent; and past-month use was 0.5 percent.

The data indicate an increase in the number of students reporting cocaine and crack use since 2015 across these three grade levels.

Male vs. Female Use

Males historically use cocaine at greater rates than females. This trend has never changed. In 2017:

  • 24.8 million males admitted to lifetime use of cocaine; about 4 million males admitted to using cocaine within the year before the survey; and 1.5 million males admitted to using cocaine within the month before the survey.
  • 15.7 million females admitted to at least one-time lifetime use of cocaine; about 2 million females admitted to past-year use of cocaine; and 675,000 females admitted to using cocaine at least once in the month before the survey.
  • 6.6 million males admitted to at least one-lifetime use of crack; 674,000 individuals admitting to using crack within the year before the survey; and 333,000 males admitted to using crack within the previous month.
  • About 3 million females admitted to at least one-lifetime use of crack; 256,000 admitted to using crack within the prior year; and 139,000 females admitted to using crack within the prior month.

The Latest Figures on Cocaine Use by Ethnicity

According to the latest data from SAMHSA in 2017, the breakdown of people by ethnicity reporting cocaine use at least once within the prior year includes:

  • 3.9 million Caucasians
  • 657,000 African Americans
  • 52,000 Native Americans
  • 140,000 Asians
  • 1 million people of Hispanic origin
  • 190,000 reporting that they were of two or more ethnic backgrounds

The breakdown for crack use by ethnicity for 2017 includes:

  • 549,000 Caucasians
  • 259,000 African Americans
  • 9,000 Native Americans
  • 15,000 Asians
  • 68,000 Hispanics
  • 28,000 reporting that they were of two or more ethnic backgrounds

What Do the Figures Tell Us?

Cocaine use has leveled off in the United States since the popularity of other drugs, like opioids and methamphetamine, increased. As the crackdown on methamphetamine abuse became more aggressive across the country, there appears to have been a rise in cocaine use (especially crack cocaine). This increase is certainly not as significant as the increase in the use of heroin and fentanyl across the country.

Overall, rates of cocaine use remain lower than those of marijuana, alcohol, and prescription medications, but rising cocaine use is troublesome. Because the drug is a stimulant drug that is often mixed with other drugs of abuse, its effects can be significant.

Although recreational cocaine use in anyone should be considered a significant problem, the use of cocaine in individuals under the age of 18 is very concerning. Ensuring that educational programs are directed at younger individuals is important.

Deaths Due to Cocaine Overdose

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and NIDA, drug overdoses occur across all demographic groups and geographic regions. The majority of drug overdose deaths involve opiates, but there has been an increase in overdose deaths from other drugs.

Deaths from cocaine overdose remained relatively stable in the U.S. (under 10,000 per year) until 2016 when they rose above 10,000. The estimates for cocaine overdose deaths for 2017 are still provisional, according to NIDA, but they are estimated to be over 14,500, which is a significant increase from previous years.

Statistics on Cocaine Use

Male vs. Female Overdose Deaths

Males appear to be victims of cocaine overdose deaths at a rate of 2:1 to females, although rates of overdose deaths associated with cocaine continue to rise for both males and females.

The explanation for the increase in cocaine overdose deaths is that many more individuals now mix cocaine with other drugs of abuse, including alcohol, benzodiazepines, other stimulants like methamphetamine, or central nervous system depressants like opiates. Cocaine mixed with fentanyl is becoming an increasing problem.

About 74 percent of individuals who died from a cocaine overdose in 2016 also had other drugs in their system.

Conclusions

Although cocaine use appeared to be leveling off in the early 2000s, there’s been a recent upward trend in use. The most concerning issues regarding cocaine use in the United States are the number of individuals under age 18 who admit to some cocaine use and the recent rise in cocaine-related overdose deaths.

People who take cocaine for recreational purposes are subject to numerous physical, mental, and legal problems associated with their use of the drug. Based on the most recent statistics, it seems that cocaine use in the U.S. will continue to increase in 2019.