Cocaine is no longer drug of choice in Miami

In these rough economic times, another pricey extravagance appears to be waning in South Florida: cocaine.

The city that gave rise to Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs has seen a decline in people seeking treatment for cocaine addiction or dying from the drug. Twenty five years after Miami Vice became part of the country’s cocaine culture lore, Miami is leading the nation in the beginning of the end of America’s three-decade cocaine epidemic, say experts.

The war on drugs had its biggest influence on the purity of cocaine, so drug users paid more and got less. And with a statewide unemployment rate hovering at 10 percent, the scourge that destroyed families and entire communities is being replaced with cheaper, easier to acquire narcotics, according to the country’s leading drug experts.

“It’s not disappearing, but it’s definitely declining,” said James N. Hall, Director of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Substance Abuse at Nova Southeastern University. “People are getting half of what they used to get — and this is occurring in the middle of the economic downturn. Cocaine, the most expensive drug on a per-dose basis, is costing more.”

According to Hall’s drug-abuse trends report:

The number of people rushed to local emergency rooms with cocaine overdoses declined 14 percent from 2008 and 2009.

Last year, 549 people sought treatment for crack and powder cocaine addictions, down from 918 the previous year. That’s a startling 41 percent drop.

The number of cocaine overdoses in Miami-Dade County started declining steadily in 2007, when 281 people suffered cocaine-related deaths. Two years later, the number had dropped to 155. Last year’s number of cocaine deaths bumped back up to 198, but experts say that increase was actually the result of more people mixing cocaine with prescription drugs like Oxycodone.

With the $40 per gram price offering a lower purity product, drug users wound up with fewer medical emergencies, Hall said.

“It’s kind of ironic, given Miami’s historic role in the cocaine industry — Miami Vice was part of the culture,” said Paul Gootenberg, a State University of New York professor who wrote Andean Cocaine: The Making of a Global Drug. “The main thing to happen with cocaine in the past 10 years is not a dramatic decline in supply, but a globalization of cocaine: It’s gone from Miami, Colombia and New York to Argentina, Spain and Britain.”

Gootenberg stressed that even if the rates of what experts call “cocaine consequences” — treatment admissions and overdoses — are down, “there’s no conclusive evidence to claim any success in the drug war.”

The declines, Gootenberg said, are more likely a result of the market and simple economics. “Florida is going through an enormous economic crisis,” he said. “People don’t have money to spend on drugs.”

But while cocaine may have fallen from fashion and favor, more Floridians turned to prescription drugs. Of the 9,000 drug-related deaths statewide last year, 6,090 showed the person used benzodiazepines and Oxycodone. Prescription drug deaths increased 50 percent in Miami-Dade last year.

Cocaine ranked fifth behind booze and crystal meth in Florida’s top causes of drug deaths.

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