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Cocaine News Archive

So What WAS in the News?

Substance abuse, whether legal or illegal, is so widespread in modern society that there are many stories about it in the news everyday.

This page contains stories about cocaine which were, originally, placed on the Substance Abuse News page but which can no longer be called 'News'.

In addition to items specifically about this substance there are many items related to substance use and misuse in general. These general items can be found in the 'All Substances News Archive'.

Please go to the 'Phantastica' page to access stories related to specific substances.

The Lies They Tell to Justify Lying
10th December 2011

The US government tries to justify the lies it told about cocaine seizures and production (see 18th November blog entry) by telling lies

Read more in today's blog

US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) says Peru is the No.1 producer of Cocaine
7the November 2011

In evidence to a US Senate committee, the DEA announced that Peru had overtaken Colombia to become the world's largest producer of cocaine. But, examining the available numbers doesn't show that.

Read more in today's blog.

U.S. Sentencing Commission Rules that The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 is to be Retrospective
5th July

The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 is intended to end the racial discrimination inherent in the USA because of mandatory minimum sentences. It has now been ruled that those already in prison can apply for their sentences to be cut. Read more in my blog entry.

How Widespread is Combined Use of Cocaine and Alcohol?

It has been known for some time that cocaethylene, the unique metabolite resulting from use of cocaine and alcohol at the same time, is potentially much more harmful that the metabolites arising from cocaine use alone.

Now the Alcohol Education and Research Council (AERC)'s 'Alcohol Academy' has published a briefing paper looking into cocaethylene, 'Cocaethylene - responding to combined alcohol and cocaine use' (opens new window).

The paper finds that detailed evidence is lacking but it seems certain that there is a high level of combined substance use, intentionally to enhance and prolong the effects of cocaine, but only a low level of the increased risks arising.

The authors call for much more study of combined use noting that attention is often concentrated solely on the illegal substance use.

In 2008, of 235 deaths where cocaine was mentioned as a principal cause, 75 also mentioned alcohol.

Select Committee Reports on Cocaine Trade

The UK parliament's Home Affairs Select Committee has been conducting an investigation into the cocaine trade and has, in March 2010, issued its report.

The summary begins by noting the 238 sudden deaths in 2008 where cocaine was a factor and also notes that cocaine and alcohol and a dangerous combination. The blame, however, is placed firmly on cocaine and the summary notes that cocaine 'rightly deserves its 'A' classification'.

The second paragraph notes both that 'Cocaine powder use in the UK has risen steeply' and that 'Purity of cocaine at both wholesale and street level has fallen... with some seizures now containing as little as 5% cocaine' without seeming to recognise that the second statement renders the first meaningless.

The full report can be accessed via this contents page (opens new window).

Transform Drug Policy Foundation (TDPF) has prepared a detailed critique which calls the report 'Good, bad and downright ugly'. The 'Good' is principally a call for “a full and independent value–for–money assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and related legislation and policy” something which TDPF has called for on many occasions but something which the PM said he would not authorise since whatever it found would not change his policy.

The downright ugly includes the failure to make any mention of the 1995 WHO survey of cocaine use which found that it has no harmful effects for the overwhelming majority of users.

The TDPF commentary is well-worth reading and can be found by clicking here. (Opens new window)

And There is a Correct Answer

Many questions are asked not to solicit new information but to ensure that the questioner's point of view is being adopted by the person being questioned.

Professor Les Iversen, the recently appointed chairman of The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) has written to the UK Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, to say that his committee will spend about a year preparing a report on the effects of cocaine.

That's what the ACMD is supposed to do; look at evidence and produce an evidenced based opinion of what action should be taken. That's the way it used to work and that's what got Professor David Nutt fired.

In Prof Iversen, it seems, Mr Johnson has got a chairman who understands what the politicians require from the ACMD. Because, Prof Iversen says in the letter announcing the investigation that the report would ''counteract the increasingly common misapprehension that cocaine is a relatively safe drug''.

Three questions come to mind;

•Why is it going to take a year to prepare the report if Prof Iversen already knows what it is going to say?

•What is the point of spending an unknown sum of money on a report which is being written to order so as to underwrite the government's attitude to cocaine?

•How can the ACMD claim to be independent and scientific when it is acting like a government spin doctor?

Cocaine Use Grows - but by how much?

The latest British Crime Survey reports increased cocaine use, especially in the 16-24 age group. This increase is what has led the ACMD to look into the effects of cocaine, see story above.

The 'headline' numbers being quoted in the press are that there has been a fivefold increase in powder cocaine use in the 16-24 age group when the 'last year use' figures are considered for 1996 versus 2008/9.

A five fold increase looks pretty scary but it must be remembered that the actual percentage of young people using cocaine in the last year is still only 6.6%. In other words, 93 in 100 young people do NOT use cocaine.

It's then worth looking at the 1996 figure, 1.3%, which is the baseline for the increase. There was no survey in 1997 so the next figure is for 1998, which is 3.1%. In 2000, the figure is 5.2%. So, the fivefold increase in cocaine use becomes a 22% increase in the last decade. In the same period, last year use for all 16 to 59 year olds has increased 50%, from 2.0% to 3.0%.

To this has to be added the question - what is cocaine?

There are two different substances going under this name. Cocaine is the alkaloid derived from the Erythroxylum coca plant. 'Cocaine' is a substance sold 'on the street' containing some (or none) of the alkaloid cocaine mixed with other substances. It is widely agreed that 'cocaine' has become progressively less potent over time. This is confirmed by analysis of seized samples plus the fact that the 'retail' price has progressively fallen whilst the 'wholesale' price has remained stable or even increased.

An increase in the prevalence of cocaine use does not signify a corresponding increase in the amount of cocaine being consumed.

There is a need for much better data on 'cocaine' and the amount of cocaine being used but, given that its conclusions are already written in Prof Iversen's mind, the ACMD investigation is not likely to improve our understanding.

'No such thing as 'safe' cocaine, experts warn' - BBC News

This is the headline of a story reporting the results of a study published in the European Heart Journal. The full text of the paper is available free of charge.

According to the BBC, and other media outlets, the study found that 3% of sudden deaths were linked to cocaine use. This, supposedly, exposes the myth that cocaine is a 'safe party drug'.

The full paper, however, tells a rather different story. The study was done in south-west Spain and there is no attempt to see if it may be applicable generally. Over 32 months, there were 2,477 forensic autopsies in the subject population of 1.9m. Of these 668 were defined as 'sudden deaths' and these were the cases investigated by the authors.

They found that 21 were related to cocaine use, which is 3.1% of the 668 'sudden' deaths.

What the press reports ignore, however, is that the researchers found that eight deaths and nine instances of sudden cardio-respiratory arrest leading to death occurred at home and only one could be directly linked to use in a public venue.

The researchers also found that 17 of the deceased had been smokers, 6 of them 'heavy', 11 were obese and 16 had cocaethylene in the blood and urine indicating use of alcohol at the same time as cocaine. Cocaethylene is known to be the most harmful metabolite of cocaine.

Evidence of at least one type of heart disease was found in 16 cases and heart disease was given as a main autopsy finding in 12 cases. The average age of the deceased, who were all male, was 34.6 years (range 21-45).

It is perfectly clear that the subjects studied for this paper bear little or no relation to the healthy, young clubbers who form a large part of the cocaine using population and the attempt to extrapolate these results to the general population being made by media is seriously flawed.

Additionally, once again, the possibly central role of alcohol in these deaths is completely ignored.