The 80s might as well have been called the “cocaine 80s”.
Cocaine was the most popular recreational drug in the 80s. It was frequently used by youth because it was cheap, plentiful, and highly addictive and it was also glamorized by Hollywood. Hollywood celebrities, professional athletes and rock stars gravitated toward cocaine in the 1980s. The popularity soon trickled down to young professionals and Average Joes who spent small fortunes to snort lines of white powder. The drug made headlines for contributing to the deaths of such notables as comedian John Belushi and college basketball star Len Bias. Belushi died in 1982, five years before most of today’s college students were born.
Cocaine played a part in the lives of every social class especially after it evolved into rock cocaine or “crack,” which became a lower class version of powder cocaine.
You would think that since everything was cheaper in the 80s, cocaine would be too since there was so much of it, but in the 80s, 1 gram of cocaine cost around $100 to $125. The cost obviously has declined since then. Today you could get a half ounce of cocaine for 400 dollars. Cocaine and crack were so rampant in the 80s that in a 1986 poll, crack and cocaine won out over alcohol for most abused drug, which is pretty impressive. But as the numbers of cocaine users rose, so did the people jailed for it. And with that, there were several anti-drug policies such as “Just Say No” and DARE that lessened cocaine use in following decades.
History of drug abuse: 80s in general
The late 1980s witnessed a drug “panic,” “crisis,” or “scare”. Public concern about drug use, although it had been building throughout the 1980s, fairly exploded late in 1985 and early in 1986. And the drug that was the special target of public concern was cocaine, more specifically, crack, a cocaine derivative. Drug use generally came to be seen as some say, the social problem of the decade. Drug use, abuse, and misuse emerged into the limelight as never before. It is possible that in no other decade has the issue of drugs occupied such a huge and troubling space in the public consciousness. And it is possible that no specific drug has dominated center stage in this concern as crack cocaine did between 1986 and, roughly, late 1989 to early 1990.
Crack use in the 1980s: In the early 1980s, the majority of cocaine being shipped to the United States, landing in Miami, was coming through the Bahamas and Dominican Republic. Soon there was a huge glut of cocaine powder in these islands, which caused the price to drop by as much as 80 percent. Faced with dropping prices for their illegal product, drug dealers made a decision to convert the powder to “crack,” a solid smoke able form of cocaine that could be sold in smaller quantities, to more people. It was cheap, simple to produce, ready to use, and highly profitable for dealers to develop. As early as 1981, reports of crack were appearing in Los Angeles, San Diego, Miami, Houston, and in the Caribbean.
Crack first began to be used on a large scale in Los Angeles in 1984. The distribution and use of the drug exploded that same year. By the end of 1986, it was available in 28 states and the District of Columbia.
In 1985, cocaine-related hospital emergencies rose by 12 percent, from 23,500 to 26,300. In 1986, it then increased 210 percent, from 26,300 to 55,200. Between 1984 and 1987, cocaine incidents increased to 94,000.
The crack epidemic is related to a sharp increase in crime on an unprecedented scale, especially violent crime. Research by two prominent economists from the University of Chicago, Steven Levitt (co-author of Freakonomics and winner of the 2003 John Bates Clark Medal) and Kevin Murphy (winner of the 1997 John Bates Clark Medal) suggest that crack was the most prominent factor contributing to the rise and fall of social problems in the African American and Latino communities between 1980 and 2000. Between 1984 and 1994, the homicide rate for black males aged 14 to 17 more than doubled, and the homicide rate for black males aged 18 to 24 increased nearly as much. During this period, the black community also experienced an increase in fetal death rates, low birth-weight babies, weapons arrests, and the number of children in foster care leading to the term “crack babies”.
There could be a lot more to say about the 80s when it comes to drugs, but if you really do your homework, cocaine is what defined this decade. While drug abuse was still going on with every substance; cocaine is what defined the 80s.
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