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Crack History and Statistics

  1. Table of ContentsPrint
  2. History of Crack
  3. Who’s Abusing It?
  4. The Crack Market
  5. Cocaine and the Law 
  6. How Dangerous Is It?

Crack rock


Crack cocaine is a highly addictive drug of abuse that has intense stimulant properties. Typically, the user will feel a rush of excitement and energy that accompanies the euphoric delivered by the substance.

Crack is a type of cocaine. This means that the effects of the substances are similar, though usually more intense in crack. It differs from cocaine in both appearance and methods of use. Cocaine is a white powder where crack comes in chunks or blocks that are white, yellow or pink. It is typically smoked in a glass pipe.

Smoking crack is called “basing” or “free basing.” Users prefer this method of use because the drug vapors can move quickly from the lungs to the blood stream. This allows the high to begin within seconds. The desired effects from smoking crack cocaine only last between 5 and 10 minutes.

Slang Names

Spoon with crackThe name “crack” actually comes from the sound it makes when it’s burned. Other slang names include:

  • Nuggets.
  • Dice.
  • Candy.
  • Rocks.
  • Base.

History of Crack

As a form of cocaine, crack derives from the leaves of the coca plant. This plant, native to South America, has been used for its pleasurable effects for thousands of years. Cocaine has a long history of availability and abuse around the world – the US being no exception.

A shift occurred in the cocaine market in the late 1970s in the US that brought about the development of crack. During this time, the US market was flooded with cocaine to the point that there was more of the drug than people to consume it. This high supply led to a price up to 80% lower than previous prices, which meant less money for the suppliers.

In an attempt to make more money, drug dealers started transforming the powder cocaine into small chunks that could be smoked by adding ammonia or baking soda, then heating the substance to solidify it. Drug dealers began to prefer this version of the drug because:

  • It was cheaper for them.
  • It was easy to manufacture.
  • It was simple for people to use.
  • It created more demand for their product.
  • It made them more money.

Reports of the drug appearing in the US market began in 1980 on the west coast of California, in Texas, and on some Caribbean islands. The trend increased until peaking in the mid-1980s to early 1990s. In 1986, crack was available in 28 states; one year later, it was available in 46 states and Washington, D.C.

The spread was not limited to the US as the drug became widely available around the world. In the early 2000s, Europe faced an increased prevalence of the drug that was centered in the United Kingdom.

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Who’s Abusing It?

Having no medically-applicable benefit, and despite the overwhelmingly negative reputation that it has developed over the years, crack continues to be manufactured and abused at high levels in the US and globally. Consider the following graph that depicts areas of high crack use. It illustrates:

  • High use in the US with slightly lower levels in Canada.
  • A high concentration of use in the South American countries of Chile and Argentina.
  • Dispersed use across Europe with Spain, England, Ireland, Denmark, and Italy leading in use.
  • High concentration in Australia.

Countries using the most cocaine

To understand the drug, its movement, and its use, it is interesting to compare the areas of abuse to the areas that have the highest purities of the substance. Consider the graph below for purity levels:

Purity levels of crack cocaine

Retail level

The graph contains several noteworthy points including:

  • The areas of highest consumption do not overlap with highest purities except for Canada, Ireland, and England.
  • Ukraine is leading the world in crack cocaine purity levels.
  • South American countries like Brazil, Paraguay, Venezuela, and Guyana show activity on the map that is possibly based on their coca production.

In the US, crack has the perception of being a drug only used in the inner-city setting by those of low socioeconomic status. In actuality, it is used by a range of people from varied races, genders and socioeconomic statuses.

How many people have used crack cocaine in their lifetime?

United States, aged 12+

How many people used crack cocaine in the last year?

United States, aged 12+

How many people used crack cocaine in the last month?

United States, aged 12+

The above charts provide useful information, especially in the relationship between recent crack use compared to recent cocaine abuse. The bar graphs state:

  • About 37 million people over the age of 12 have used cocaine.
  • Less than 10 million people over the age of 12 have used it.
  • Consumption of both crack and cocaine has dropped slightly over the last two years.
  • Crack use amounts to roughly one quarter that of lifetime, past year, and past month cocaine use.

To take a closer look at how teenagers use cocaine, refer to the line graph below.

How many youth use cocaine?

United States

The graph shows a steady decrease among 16-17 year-olds with a less significant drop than 14-15 year-olds over the five year period. The use among 12-13 year-olds may appear stable, but the number has dropped from 14,000 to 9,000. The number was reduced by more than a third. Now compare this to crack use by teenagers in the US.

How many youth use crack cocaine?

United States

For more information on teenager crack use, consider this information from National Institute on Drug Abuse. It states past year crack use from 2011 to 2014:

  • Fell from 1.5% to 1.2% among 8th grade students.
  • Fell from 0.9% to 0.5% among 10th grade students.
  • Rose from 1.0% to 1.1% among 12th grade students.

The Crack Market

Following its spike in the late 1980s and early 1990s, crack saw a dip in interest and use. In the age of the Internet, statistics are compiled based on the web queries, where they are from, and how often they are made. The following shows web interest in cocaine. Consider the following trends illustrated by the graph below:

  • Internet searches for cocaine peaked in 2005.
  • Since then, the levels have been relatively consistent with only mild variations.
  • Search origins have been consistent as well with New York, Florida, and Texas routinely leading the country.

Google Trends: Searches for “cocaine”

The graph below shows the Internet interest trends for crack cocaine specifically. It states:

  • Search interest for crack parallels that of cocaine with the peak coming in 2005.
  • Unlike the consistency seen for cocaine, interest in crack has been reduced by 70% over the last 10 years.
  • Whereas New York and California showed more interest in the past, the highest concentrations of interest currently are in Louisiana, Mississippi, and North Carolina.

Google Trends: Searches for “crack cocaine”

The interest trends for cocaine and crack likely have something to do with the price for the product. Search results show that interests are higher during the times when the drug price is lower. The drug has declined in search rating as the price increased over the past 10 years. See the chart below for more information of price changes.

Street price of crack cocaine

United States

Crack Cocaine
@ 0.25 pure gram

Cocaine and the Law 

Crack cocaine is illegal without exception. On the other hand, cocaine does have very limited medical appropriateness as topical painkiller and vasoconstrictor used for or associated with certain head, neck and respiratory tract procedures but, since products that are more effective are available, cocaine hydrochloride is used sparingly.

Because of cocaine's medical applications, it is regulated with production quotas by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Refer to the following graphs for the DEA’s quotas and the amount of coca that is cultivated each year.

United States DEA annual production quotas for cocaine

How much coca is cultivated for cocaine each year

The above shows that the area of land that is set aside for the coca cultivation is larger than New York City.

As illustrated earlier, crack is a desirable drug throughout the world. Columbia is noted for producing about 90% of the cocaine that comes into the U.S., and about 90% of the cocaine that enters the US travels through Central America, then Mexico.

The following graphic shows that Panama, the country that separates South America from Central America, leads the world in amount of crack seized. This is likely a tactic by drug enforcement to hinder trafficking into the US.

Amount of crack cocaine seized

Legal Penalties of Using Crack

Typical legal penalties involving crack cocaine include the following:

  • Trafficking a Schedule I drug can carry a federal sentence of up to 40 years in prison.
  • State penalties for possession of Schedule II drugs—such as cocaine—can include prison sentences of up to 15 years.
  • Crack cocaine convictions carry an average sentence length of 115 months, compared to an average of 87 months for cocaine.

How Dangerous Is It?

Crack is a very dangerous substance with its highly addictive nature being a central feature of its harm-causing potential. Smoking crack triggers key pleasure-related signals in the brain causing more of the chemical dopamine to be available in the brain.

Long-term use of the drug can result in changes in the brain that are irreversible even with time and treatment.

The Dangerous Effects of Crack

Mental Health Issues

  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Paranoia.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Delusions.
  • Hyperactivity.

Physical Health Issues

  • Organ Damage
  • Weight loss.
  • Breathing problems due to inhaling the vapor.
  • Sexual problems.
  • Poor dental health.

Financial Issues
Crack use can lead to dangerous financial problems based on needing more money to feed the addiction, which often leads to legal problems indirectly related to the drug – including theft and burglary to acquire money or to trade for the substance.


Crack addiction can also lead to the neglect of personal relationships and priorities, as the focus trends quickly to obtaining more crack over everything else. With crack, the information is clear. There is no benefit to use of this drug on any level. Use only leads to problems with physical health, mental health, problems with the law, and loss of life in various ways.

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