Cheap Cocaine: It's a 'Social Thing'

Thirty-six years after President Nixon declared a "war on drugs," cocaine remains thoroughly in demand and it's as cheap and trendy as ever.

"Coke's a social thing, and I always pair it with alcohol," said a 25-year-old Los Angeles woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, to ABC News.

With a master's degree and a career in media, she may not be many people's mental image of a regular hard drug user, but the woman interviewed fits that description and admitted that she did cocaine every night she went out.

And she's not alone. The availability of inexpensive cocaine at nightclubs, bars and house parties is an increasing issue, according to drug rehabilitation experts.

With a seemingly inexhaustible supply of the drug flooding over the U.S. border, prices are far lower than they were in the 1980s, making the question of what can be done to limit drug sales and use as pertinent as ever for government and law enforcement.

According to figures from The Atlantic magazine, cocaine prices per pure gram fell from $600 in the early 1980s to less than $200 by the mid-1990s. Today, a gram of cocaine is sold for between $20 and $25 in New York. In Los Angeles and Seattle, it can be bought for as little as $30, while in Dallas it ranges from between $50 and $80.

The cheaper price for a quick fix means a steady stream of new users and addicts looking to kick the habit.

"There is a tremendous amount of cocaine and crack cocaine use at this point — more than in any of my previous 19 years in the field," said Bernadine Fried, clinical director at the Wonderland Center, a high-end rehab center near Beverly Hills, Calif.

'It's a Quick Buzz'

On a typical night at a bar, the woman interviewed by ABC said she'd go into restroom stalls with girlfriends, snort a few lines off the cistern and then return to the bar. It is, she says, no big deal.

"It's a quick buzz that's done after 15 minutes, so you want it more and more. The craving is like alcohol, only more intense," she said while sipping on a nonfat vanilla latte.

Her dealer is an actor who overcomes his lack of work in front of the camera by selling, and using, drugs.

Another illustration of partygoers' dependency on drugs to have a good time was provided by the owner of The Hollywood Canteen, an upscale nightclub in Los Angeles.

"Two years ago I had an employee who brought in models and actresses — a good crowd," said the owner, who chose to go by the alias Kitae Kim. "I found out he used cocaine and most of the people he would bring to the club used too, so I fired him."

Kim, a former cocaine user, said he made the decision to protect the club, but it came at a cost.

"There was a backlash as partyers knew this was a place that would not tolerate drugs," said Kim, 40. "We lost a lot of business."

Figures from the Drug Enforcement Administration show that people age 18-25 are three times as likely to use cocaine as anyone outside of that range.

Big Busts Can Slow the Price Drop

Law enforcement officials do not believe the price of cocaine will continue to drop, pointing to the recent seizure by the U.S. Coast Guard in March of a freighter carrying 20 tons of the drug as one of the reasons why.

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