Crack is the crystalline form of cocaine. It comes in form of rocks or crystals that are white, off-white, pinkish, or yellowish in color. The substance is very potent and addictive. As a cocaine derivative, it is classified as a schedule II drug per the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, which means that, although it is accepted for medical use in the U.S., it has a high potential for abuse and can lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. It is therefore illegal to possess or distribute the drug.
How is crack cocaine made?
Crack cocaine is made from taking the powdered form of cocaine dissolving it in water. Ammonia or sodium bicarbonate (commonly known as baking soda) is then added in and boiled. The boiling will isolate the cocaine base. It separates as an oily layer that will settle. It is then removed so that it can be dried. Once dried, it hardens and looks like a rock which can be broken up into smaller pieces and sold. The process of producing crack is so easy and cheap that many users will make their own. They often will use a spoon, a lighter, and some baking soda to convert cocaine to crack using the above process.
Crack cocaine vs. Powdered Cocaine
In terms of the substance itself, crack is cocaine, just in another form. The main difference is that the crystals can be smoked, while powdered cocaine cannot. The different methods of consumption do change the intensity and duration of the effect. For example, when smoked, the high happens almost instantly and will last about 5 to 10 minutes, while snorting cocaine will create a high after about 15 to 30 minutes and last up to an hour. The effects are similar, though they might be felt more intensely through smoking. Crack cocaine can also be snorted and dissolved in water and injected.
History of Crack Cocaine in the United States
Crack cocaine first appeared in the United States in the 80s. There was a surge in the popularity of cocaine in the U.S. in the 70s. Shipments of cocaine would come from South America through the Caribbean and arrive in the country in Florida. According to the DEA, there was an excessive amount of cocaine available on these Islands. Because of the supply and demand imbalance, the price for the drug dropped dramatically (80%). At this point, to make profits with their illegal drugs, they started producing crack cocaine from their powdered cocaine. This new drug could be sold in smaller quantities, didn't cost much of anything to make, and became a very profitable move for drug dealers. Eventually, the process of producing crack was exported to the U.S. through Caribbean immigrants. In the beginning, most of the United States crack production was done out of South Florida, but as the popularity of the drug rose, conversion labs popped up in other states as well. In 1982, the first crack house (a place where people make, sell, and consume crack) was discovered in Miami. At that point, people thought that crack was a problem limited to Miami, but this would change in December 1983, when crack was first spotted in NYC. And although the majority of those who used crack in the New York area, in the beginning, were either professionals, middle-class or upper-class individuals, the low cost of the drug ($5 for 1/10th of a gram), it eventually spread to low-income neighborhoods.
The Crack Epidemic
The crack epidemic is a media term used to describe the significant increase of crack cocaine consumption in the U.S. in the 80s. The numbers peaked in the mid-80s. In 1985, according to the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, regular cocaine consumption went from 4.2 million to 5.8 million, which is almost a 40% increase in one year. Following this, the cocaine-related emergency room visits increased as well, rising by 12% from 84 to 85 and by an alarming 110% from 85 to 86. Cocaine incidents were 4 times higher between 84 and 87. This crack problem was linked to a lot of violence. For example, in NYC, it was reported in a study in 1988 that crack use was related to 32% of all homicides and 60% of all drug-related homicides in the city. This phenomenon was exacerbated by the media with words such as "crisis" and "epidemic". Although the impact of crack cocaine on the country shouldn't be diminished, many media outlets further increased the moral panic related to it.
Crack Cocaine Laws
The social impact of crack use in the American communities led to the enactment of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 as part of President Nixon’s War on Drugs. This Act brought about a huge disparity in sentencing of crack vs. powdered cocaine offense. For an offense of possessing 500 grams of cocaine/5g of crack with intent to distribute, the Act states:
“the person committing such violation shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 5 years and not more than 40 years…”
“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the court shall not place on probation or suspend the sentence of any person sentenced under this paragraph. No person sentenced under this paragraph shall be eligible for parole during the term of imprisonment imposed therein.”
This meant that no matter what, if a person was arrested with 5g of crack cocaine with intent to distribute, they had to be incarcerated for a minimum of 5 years with no possibility of parole, while another person could have up to 499 grams of cocaine before being imposed the same sentence.
Two years later, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 was enacted. Congress found that in New York City, 80% of men arrested for serious crimes tested positive for cocaine, and seizures of cocaine went from 1.7 tons in 81 to 70 tons in 87. A specific amendment was made concerning crack possession. The imprisonment duration would be a minimum of 5 years (maximum of 20 years) for crack possession of more than 5 grams if the person has no prior drug conviction, more than 3 grams if they have 1 prior conviction, and more than 1 gram is they have 2 or more prior convictions. These minimum sentences were for simple possession, even if there was no intent to distribute.
These minimum sentences remained in effect until the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. This Act made several amendments with regard to crack cocaine.
- It completely removed the amendment regarding simple crack possession enacted in 1988.
- It reduced the sentencing disparity between cocaine and crack by changing the 5 grams to 28 grams, reducing the 100:1 ratio to 17.9:1.
- It also out emphasis on the role the person played and the aggravating or mitigating factors that should be weighed when convicting and sentencing an individual.
What Does Crack Cocaine Look Like?
EXAMPLE OF CRACK COCAINE
SMALLER PIECES OF CRACK COCAINE
ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF CRACK COCAINE
Common street names for crack cocaine
Depending on where one lives, the street names for crack might vary, but here is a list of some of them:
- Apple Jack
- Black rock
- Breakfast of Champions
- Cloud Nine
- Crunch & Munch
- Devil Smoke
- Dime Special
- Eye Opener
- Fat bags
- French fries
- Ice cubes
- Jelly beans
- Speed Boat
Effects of crack cocaine
Smoking crack takes effect very quickly and the high the user will feel will last only 5 to 10 minutes. Here are some of the short term effects related to crack use:
- Contracted blood vessels
- Convulsions, seizures, and sudden death
- Dilated pupils
- Disturbed sleep patterns
- Increased alertness
- Increased heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature
- Intense euphoria
- Loss of appetite
- Tactile hallucination that creates the illusion of bugs burrowing under the skin
After the high is over, the crash is very intense and users can experience some of the following effects:
- Abdominal pain
- Anxiety and paranoia
- Intense drug craving
Continued use of crack cocaine can lead to the following effects:
- Cardiovascular problems
- High blood pressure
- Irritability and mood swings
- Liver, kidney, and lung damage
- Permanent damage to blood vessels of the ear and brain
- Respiratory failure
- Respiratory problems
- Severe chest pains
- Sexual problems, reproductive damage
- Sleep deprivation
- Tooth decay
Continual use of crack cocaine can also lead to a collection of symptoms dubbed “crack lung”. When smoking the drug, some users can irritate and inflame their lungs. This will cause pneumonia-like symptoms such as chest pain, fever, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Some people might also cough up blood (red or black), which indicates lung hemorrhage. Crack lung can also lead to lung failure and death.
When using crack cocaine, there is always a risk of overdosing. Because of the rapid effects that come from smoking, the potential for overdose is higher. Overdose is not dependent on the amount of crack taken, although the bigger the doses and the longer it is consumed will increase the chances of overdosing. Users will often use crack along with other substances (alcohol, prescription drugs, or illicit drugs), this can increase the chances of overdosing. Even if a user doesn’t knowingly mix crack with other substances, crack can be laced with substances, such as fentanyl. Drugs like fentanyl are extremely potent and small quantities can cause a user to overdose.
When someone overdoses on crack, their body goes into overstimulation. Crack is a stimulant, so it naturally will stimulate various systems in the brain and the body, but during an overdose, the brain and the body are going into overdrive, at a level that can lead to a stroke, a heart attack, kidney failure, coma or even death.
Signs of Crack Cocaine Overdose
A lot of the symptoms of a crack overdose will be similar to those experienced during regular use of crack cocaine. However, those will normally be experienced at a higher level than normal. Here are some of the symptoms experienced during a crack overdose, also keep in mind that if the user is mixing crack with other substances, the symptoms can vary greatly depending on the substances used.
- Chest pains
- Dilated pupils
- Excessive sweating
- Faint pulse
- High body temperature
- Increased heart rate
- Irregular heartbeat
- Paranoid behavior
- Profuse sweating
- Slowed breathing
- Violent behavior
If you notice any of these symptoms or suspect an overdose, call 911 immediately. The person will need medical help. They can also tell you how to best help the person while the paramedics arrive.
Instantaneous addiction is a controversial subject. Although many experts will argue that addiction can only develop over time and through regular use, many actual addicts or ex-addicts will say that they were hooked from the very first hit. Many describe that the very first high experienced is the best one and will never be able to be replicated, but the person will try. So although some can argue that one cannot be truly addicted right away by definition, the cycle of addiction can start from that very first moment. This is especially true of crack since the effects only last 5 to 10 minutes and also comes with a very unpleasant comedown. A person can use crack for the second time very quickly after the first. And when the high isn’t as great as the first one they experienced, they might do it again thinking they will recreate that feeling, and so crack abuse begins. So whether people agree with instant addiction or not, it is a fact that crack cocaine is very addictive. It should absolutely be left alone.
The first time can be innocent enough, where someone just wants to have a little fun for the weekend. Sometimes peer pressure can make a person try it out. But once a person is addicted to crack, they will do just about anything to get more drugs. The withdrawal symptoms and the cravings make it awfully hard to focus on anything else.
Signs of Crack Use and Addiction
One of the signs of crack abuse is paraphernalia. Different things can be used to consume crack. One of the main things will be either a glass pipe or a glass cylinder with or without a rounded end. You will often find a makeshift filter on one end (often made of steel wool or other material). If a crack pipe is used, you will see black burn marks and dark residue at the end. Other objects can be used as makeshift pipes. Anything found that looks like a pipe should sound alarm bells. Also, glass items (such as light bulbs) that have burn marks on them requires further investigation.
Apart from the equipment, there are signs to be observed in the person. Users will often disappear without logical explanation to go and use the drug. If the person is under the influence of crack, there are physical signs that can be observed, such as dilated pupils, elevated breathing rate, and restlessness. Another symptom that will show up when a person is high on crack is that they will seem to have an excessive amount of energy. When a person smokes crack, they will often burn their fingers and have what is commonly referred to as "crack lips", which is where the user gets dry and cracked lips.
As with many other drugs, any major shift in behavior could be a sign of crack use. If all of a sudden, the person starts dropping their responsibilities (work, school, family, etc.), it can indicate a drug problem. Also, major mood swings observed could be associated with crack abuse, since the person goes from being overly stimulated (the high) to feeling exhausted, depressed, etc. (the withdrawal).
As soon as you suspect that a person has started using, you should get them help right away. There is no sense in waiting, it won’t get better on its own.
How to help a loved one addicted to crack cocaine
Here are some steps to take if you are dealing with a loved one addicted to crack cocaine.
- Learn about crack cocaine abuse and addiction. It's crucial to understand what crack cocaine does to the body and the mind and how a crack cocaine addict behaves. It is also helpful to learn about the treatment options for crack cocaine abuse and addiction. Speaking to a professional such as one of our referral specialists can help you understand the treatment steps recommended for crack addiction and the treatments available in your area.
- Let them know that you are there to support and that you are here to help them. When having a conversation concerning their crack cocaine problem, make sure they are sober. Encourage them to get treated as it will only get worse if this continues. This conversation should not be confrontational, but it should be honest.
- Do not enable the addict. As you support your loved one, it is essential not to let this become enabling behavior. It is important to support the person, but just as important to not support their crack addiction. Boundaries should be set to show the person that his crack cocaine abuse will not be tolerated. This can include cutting off all financial assistance, for example. It is crucial to uphold these boundaries. The same concept applies to consequences. As you let the person know of the consequences they will face if they keep using crack cocaine, follow through with the consequences. Although it may seem unkind, you are helping the person. The real enemy is the addiction.
- Persist in communicating with your loved one about their crack cocaine problem and getting help. If talking to them is getting you nowhere, you can hire a professional interventionist. Some rehabilitation facilities will provide an interventionist to help with the process. An intervention is a specific process with steps designed to make the person realize they have a problem and need treatment.
In all of this, it is essential to remember that the addict is responsible for their actions. However, a lot of the destructive behaviors of the individual are related to their addiction. Who they were before their addiction is who they are. The only true help for them is to treat their addiction.
Crack Abuse and Addiction Treatment
Addiction to crack cocaine can be hard to break. Different types of treatment are available and depending on each person, the services needed might not be the same. Treatment for a crack addict should address the physical and psychological issues related to addiction. It should also seek to give the recovering addict the tools necessary to ensure that he can rejoin society as a productive member.
Crack Withdrawal Symptoms
When a person stops taking crack cocaine, quite a few symptoms will present themselves. These happen in different stages and will vary from person to person.
- Changing moods
- Cravings (these can be severe)
- Depression (this can get to an extreme level)
- Increased Hunger
- Lack of energy
- Low motivation
- Trouble concentrating
- Trouble Sleeping
- Vivid Dreams
Crack Cocaine Detox
The point of a detox is to actually get through the crack withdrawal phase to be physically and mentally ready to undergo rehabilitation. There are three main types of detoxification settings: home detox, a detox program, and a medical detox program.
Home Detox: Although it is possible for someone to wait out the withdrawal symptoms and manage them at home, it can be difficult for a person not to relapse when the symptoms peak. Another thing to consider is the symptoms themselves. If a person starts being anxious, paranoid, or very depressed, they could harm themselves or others. Even the physical symptoms can become problematic if not managed properly. It is wise to seek the help of professionals.
Detox program: Going through a detox program to get through withdrawal is a very safe option. This can be done at a dedicated detox center or some rehabilitation facilities offer detoxification. When a crack user enters detox, the drug is stopped entirely (“cold turkey”) and medical supervision is provided to make sure that they safely go through the withdrawal process.
Medical detox program: A medically supervised detox is similar to a regular detox program, except that some of the withdrawal symptoms can be managed with specific medications. For example, if someone is experiencing insomnia or nightmares, they can be administered a sleeping medication to let them get some rest. The administration of medication is supervised by a healthcare professional and is just meant to manage the symptoms on a short-term basis. This can ensure that the detox is as comfortable and safe as possible for the patient.
Detox is just the first step. No matter the type of detox chosen, the person should attend a full rehabilitation program to handle the issues related to the addiction.
Outpatient vs. Inpatient Treatment
The two main types of rehab programs are outpatient or residential treatments. To figure out which one is best suited for someone, an assessment of their circumstances is necessary. Some people cannot afford to leave their life or their job for an extended period of time, so an outpatient treatment would be what is best for them. However, continuing to live in the same environment and seeing the same people while undergoing treatment can be a bit tricky. The person might encounter triggers in their daily life which could make recovery harder for them.
Inpatient rehab does require the person to leave their life for a certain amount of time (short term: 1 month, long term: typically 3 to 6 months) and if it is a private treatment, it might include some costs. However, there are a lot of advantages, getting the person out of their regular environment where they were using crack decreases the chance of the person getting triggered. The facility is also fully adapted for people who are recovering from addiction. It provides a safe place where the person can focus solely on their recovery.
Whether you are looking for an outpatient or inpatient rehab, it is important to get information on what type of services they provide. There are several types of therapies available to help with addiction such as 12 steps programs, cognitive behavioral therapy, one-on-one counseling, and group counseling, it is important to find the services that will best suit them and give them the best chance at a full recovery and drug-free life.
Crack Cocaine statistics in the United States
According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the statistics over crack cocaine use has remained pretty stable from 2018 to 2019. Of those surveyed in 2019, 778,000 reported using crack within the past year, this is similar to the 757 000 in 2018.
The age groups of those who reported using crack cocaine give a better idea of the trends. These are the different statistics for past-year use for different age groups. For teenagers (12 to 17 years old), 4 000 reported using crack in 2018, this jumped to 11 000 in 2019, a 175% increase. For young adults (18 to 25), we saw a decrease of almost 30%, from 87 000 in 2018 to 61 000 in 2019. But the vast majority of those reporting crack use in the past year were 26 or older (706 000), and of those 363 000 were 50 years old or older.
And although the public perception of crack is that it is predominantly a drug consumed by black or African American communities, the survey showed that the same percentage of whites and blacks or African Americans reported using crack at least once in their lifetime (3.8% for both).
Definitions of common terms related to crack cocaine
|Crack bugs||a tactile hallucination that makes the person feel like bugs are crawling on or below their skin. The user might pick or scratch at their skin to get rid of the bugs.|
|Crack house||a place (house, apartment) where people produce, sell, and consume crack cocaine.|
|Crack lung||A set of symptoms that occurs because of lung inflammation caused by smoking crack. Some of the symptoms are chest pain, difficulty breathing, coughing and fever.|
|Rock||a street name for crack cocaine. A person will also buy crack cocaine by the rock (not according to weight), in many places a rock is about 0.1g of crack cocaine, but this can vary greatly.|
|Schedule II||a drug classification that implies that the drug has a high potential for abuse and that it can lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. Crack cocaine is a Schedule II drug.|
|Stimulant||a substance that increases the nervous and physiological activity in the brain and/or body.|