Cheap High: Cocaine Prices Still Falling

Drug costs less today than ever, a study says.

April 19, 2009, 6:29 PM

April 20, 2009— -- Cocaine is as cheap as ever, according to a new analysis of government data by a Washington, D.C. think tank.

The findings appear to contradict claims by U.S. law enforcement officials that the drug has become more expensive. "[Over] the last two years there's been a sustained increase on the price of cocaine," said Drug Enforcement Administration operations chief Tom Harrigan in a recent interview with ABC News. Harrigan credited efforts by the United States, Mexico and local U.S. governments.

But the retail price for cocaine in 2007, the most recent year studied, was less than half what it was in 1984, when Jay McInerney's novel of a coke-addled Manhattanite, "Bright Lights, Big City," was first published, according to the report by the policy group Washington Office on Latin America, which cited a newly-released analysis by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The cocaine market portrayed by the report contrasts with boasts made by the Drug Enforcement Administration last year that cocaine prices were soaring in part due government counterdrug efforts, experts say.

"It's roughly in line with the trend we see with most other illegal drugs, and undermines the government's claim they're making it more difficult to purchase" such substances, said journalist Ryan Grim, whose book on American drug policy, "This is Your Country on Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America," publishes in June.

The DEA did not respond with comment for this story.

Cocaine prices do spike from time to time, said John Walsh, the drug policy expert with the D.C.-based Washington Office on Latin America who authored the study. But he noted the long-term trend shows prices steadily declining.

Cocaine Market Remains Constant

The market for cocaine in the United States appears to have remained constant over the years, and the product's purity has slightly improved, Walsh said. His group advocates "harm reduction" strategies, including boosting treatment of drug abusers, to curb the nation's drug problem.

Walsh credits competition among cocaine suppliers and more sophisticated trafficking techniques for keeping prices low and quality up. "It's become efficient," Walsh said of the cocaine industry. "Over time the market has become entrenched and mature."

One possible example of the sophisticated techniques that keep prices low: ABC News reported last week how Mexican cartels were smuggling cocaine by the truckload into the U.S. "They do operate with a business-like efficiency," one DEA official told ABC News of the smugglers.

Walsh noted that although the ONDCP report was released earlier this year by the Obama White House, the document shows it was completed last July under the Bush administration.

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