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FAQ About Crack

Crack addiction is one of society's greatest problems today. Individuals addicted to crack will do almost anything to get the drug. It has penetrated all levels of our society; rich, poor, and everyone in between. Family members connected to individuals with a crack addiction live in chaos and confusion, not understanding the underlying mechanics of crack addiction. At Narconon we do understand crack addiction. Narconon Southern California is a leader in the field of crack addiction treatment since 1971. If you have a loved one addicted to crack, we can help.

Pictures of Crack
Q.) What is crack?

A.)The chemical cocaine hydrochloride is commonly known as crack. Some users chemically process cocaine in order to remove the hydrochloride. This process is called "freebasing" and makes the drug more potent. "Crack" is a solid form of freebased cocaine. It is called "crack" because it snaps and cracks when heated and smoked.

Since crack is a prepared form of freebased cocaine, the user does not have to buy the equipment or be exposed to the explosive chemicals associated with freebasing. Crack is most often packaged in vials or plastic bags and sold in small quantities, usually 300-500mg or enough for two to three inhalations.

In the 1970s cocaine was expensive and considered a "status" drug. The introduction of inexpensive crack increased the accessibility of this substance, and crack has become the drug of choice for many drug users, especiallyfor inner-city disadvantaged youth. Crack's convenience, ease of concealment, wide availability, and low cost has increased its use. The fact that crack is smoked rather than snorted or injected (ingestion methods associated with the stigma of being a "junkie") has contributed to its popularity.

One gram of pure powder cocaine will convert to approximately 0.89 grams of crack. The Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that crack rocks are between 75 and 90 percent pure cocaine.

Q.) What is the difference between crack and cocaine?

A.) Crack is made from cocaine in a process called freebasing, in which cocaine powder is cooked with ammonia or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to create rocks, chips, or chunks that can be smoked. The term crack refers to the crackling sound that is heard when the mixture is smoked. Crack is usually smoked in a pipe. Because it's smoked, crack cocaine effects are felt more quickly and they are more intense than those of powder cocaine. However, the effects of smoked crack are shorter lived than the effects of snorted powder cocaine.

Cocaine is produced as a white chunky powder. It is sold most often in aluminum foil, plastic or paper packets, or small vials. Cocaine is usually chopped into a fine powder with a razor blade on a small mirror or some other hard surface, arranged into small rows called "lines," then quickly inhaled (or "snorted") through the nose with a short straw or rolled up paper money. It can also be injected into the blood stream.

Q.) How is crack used?

A.) The same way that freebase is used, namely, by placing the substance in a glass pipe (or hash pipe) with a fine mesh screen under it, then heating it and inhaling the vapors. The vapors of the crack are absorbed through the lungs, into the bloodstream, and transported to the brain within 10-15 seconds. One inhalation will produce a degree of intoxication usually lasting 10-15 minutes.

Q.) What is the street price of crack?

A.) Typically, cocaine HCl is converted into crack cocaine, or “rock,” within the United States by the secondary wholesaler or retailer. Crack cocaine is often packaged in vials, glassine bags, and film canisters. The size of a crack rock can vary, but generally ranges from 1/10 to 1/2 gram. Rocks can sell for as low as $3 to as high as $50, but prices generally range from $10 to $20.

    The Street Price of Crack Cocaine
  • $40 - 1/4 gram (larger "rock")
  • $10-$25 - 1/10 gram (smaller "rock")
  • Note: Prices vary according to purity, quantity, place of origin and sale, and numerous market trends.

Q.) Why is crack such a dangerous drug?

A.) Crack is inhaled and rapidly absorbed through the lungs, into the blood, and carried swiftly to the brain. The chances of overdosing and poisoning leading to coma, convulsions, and death are greatly increased. Crack's rapid rush -5 to 7 minutes of intense pleasure- quickly subsides, leading to depression that needs to be relieved by more crack. This cycle enhances the chances of addiction and dependency. Because of the brief high, users are constantly thinking about, and devising ways to get more crack. Psychologically, the drug reduces concentration, ambition, drive, and increases confusion and irritability, wreaking havoc on users' professional and personal lives. Habitual use may lead to cocaine psychosis causing, paranoia, hallucinations, and a condition known as formication, in which insects or snakes are perceived to be crawling under the skin. The paranoia and depression can instigate violent and suicidal behavior. The side effects of adulterants increase cocaine's risks. The drug is often cut with one or more of any number of other substances, such as the cheaper drugs procaine, lidocaine, and benzocaine, and substances that pose no serious risks, such as sugars (mannitol and sucrose), or starches. However, when quinine or amphetamines are added, the potential for serious side effects increases dramatically.

Q) What is crack addiction?

A) Once an individual has tried crack, they may be unable to predict or control the extent to which they will continue to use. Crack is probably the most addictive substance that has been devised so far. Crack addicts must have more and more crack to sustain their high and avoid the intense "crash" or depression that follows their binges. They become physically and psychologically dependent on crack, which is often a result of only few doses of the drug taken within a few days. This dependence can lead to addiction.

All to often, the process of crack addiction goes something like this: The "soon to be addict" takes their first hit. Upon inhalation of this powerful drug, the users body instantly begins the addiction process. The individual's mental and emotional being is soon to follow, but for now just their body suffers from the initial stages of crack addiction. After the first few times using the drug, their mind slowly starts the addiction process. This grows stronger and stronger until, mentally, the addict believes that they cannot live without the drug. They now are entangled in a full fledged crack addiction. Shortly after this occurs, crack takes complete control over their emotions.

Once the individual's emotions have been overridden by cocaine, they no longer feel normal without being intoxicated. When this occurs they feel the need to use more crack just to feel normal. In order to get high they have to take an immense amount of the drug. Their crack addiction has infiltrated all areas of their life. They can no longer function physically, emotionally, or mentally without crack. This cycle of addiction continues until the individual either quits using or dies.

The above process of crack addiction demonstrates the potential power of this insidious drug. Even though death lurks around the corner, individuals with an addiction to crack continue to use with no regard for their life or anyone elses.

Q) How does crack produce its effects?

A) Crack works on the automatic nervous system. The automatic nervous system controls the sympathetic system which speeds everything up such as heart rate and breathing. The autonomic nervous system also controls the para-sympathetic system which does the exact opposite (slows things down). This explains why people become hyper when the smoke crack. Crack works by causing the brains neuro transmitters to release all the dopamine at once (dopamine is a chemical in the brain which releases feelings of pleasure). When we laugh, a slight amount of dopamine is released and this makes you feel good. After this dopamine has been released, crack can block the re-uptake of the dopamine in some cases. If this happens, the person will now make it a mission to get any sort of pleasure.

Q) How does crack effect the brain?

A) The use of crack alters the processes of the brain by causing a change in the way neurons in the brain communicate. Nerve cells, called neurons, communicate with each other by supplying the brain with chemicals called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters allow information in the form of electrical impulses to be passed through the body. This process works by neurotransmitters attaching themselves to certain areas in the brain. One of the neurotransmitters affected by crack is called dopamine. Dopamine is released by neurons in the part of the brain that controls feelings of pleasure and well-being. This area is in the limbic system of the brain. Normally, once dopamine has transferred to a nerve cell's receptors and caused a reaction in a cell, it is transferred back to the neuron that released it.

Crack cocaine causes damage to this system and blocks the process of transfer. Dopamine then builds up in the gap synapse between neurons. As a result, for crack cocaine users, dopamine keeps affecting a nerve cell after it should have stopped. That's why someone who uses crack cocaine feels an extra sense of euphoria and pleasure. Although crack cocaine may bring on intense feelings of pleasure while it is being used, crack cocaine can damage the ability to feel pleasure in the long run. Research suggests that long-term crack cocaine use may reduce the amount of dopamine or the number of dopamine receptors in the brain. When this happens, nerve cells must have crack cocaine to communicate properly. Without crack cocaine, the brain can't send enough dopamine to the receptors to create a feeling of pleasure.

Q) When are the effects felt from smoking crack?

A) Facilitated by the large surface area of the lungs' air sacs, cocaine administered by inhalation is absorbed almost immediately into the bloodstream. It takes only 19 seconds to reach the brain. However, only 30 to 60 percent of the available dose is absorbed due to incomplete inhalation of the cocaine-laden fumes and variations in the heating temperature.

Crack smokers achieve maximum physiological effects approximately two minutes after inhalation. Maximum psychotropic effects are attained approximately one minute after inhalation. Similar to intravenous administration, the physiological and psychotropic effects of inhaled cocaine are sustained for approximately 30 minutes after peak effects are attained.

Q) What are the short term effects of crack?

A) The short term effects of crack can be felt upon the users initial hit. The individual begins to feel the effects of crack immediately. The user experiences an increase in energy, body temperature, mental alertness, heart rate, constricted blood vessels, as well as a decrease in appetite. These temporary effects of crack are as short lived as the users high. Because crack is smoked, causing it to travel through the blood up to the brain much faster than cocaine which is snorted, the user experiences these short term effects more intensely. The duration and intensity of these short term effects of crack are based on the amount of crack that is used.

The short term effects of crack include but are not limited to:

  • Magnification of pleasure, euphoria
  • Alertness and in some cases - hyper-alertness
  • Increased and sometimes a grandiose sense of well being
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Lower social inhibitions: more sociable and talkative
  • Heightened energy, self-esteem, sexuality and emotions aroused by interpersonal experiences
  • Appetite loss; weight loss

Q) What are the long term effects of crack?

A) The long term effects of crack affect the user physically, mentally, and emotionally. An individual's long term effects from crack vary from person to person depending on their length and intensity of abuse. In general, the long term effects of crack include restlessness, mood change, irritability, auditory hallucinations, extreme paranoia, and eventually and rather quickly, addiction.

The long term effects of crack include but are not limited to:

  • Extreme euphoria - "mental orgasm"
  • Uninhibited
  • Impaired judgment
  • Grandiosity
  • Impulsivity
  • Hyper sexuality
  • Hyper vigilance
  • Compulsivity
  • Extreme psychomotor activation/agitation
  • Anxiety; irritability; argumentative
  • Transient panic
  • Paranoia
  • Terror of impending death
  • Poor reality testing; delusions
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Chronic sore throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Bronchitis
  • Lung cancer
  • Emphysema and other lung damage
  • Respiratory problems such as congestion of the lungs, wheezing, and spitting up black phlegm
  • Burning of the lips, tongue, and throat
  • Slowed digestion
  • Weight loss
  • High incidence of dependence
  • Blood vessel constriction
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Brain seizures that can result in suffocation
  • Dilated pupils
  • Sweating
  • Rise in blood sugar levels and body temperature
  • Disability from drug-induced health problems
  • Suppressed desire for food, sex, friends, family, and social contacts
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Death

Q.) What are the side effects of crack?

A.) Below is a list of side effects due to crack addiction:

  • Changes in blood pressure, heart rates, and breathing rates
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Convulsions
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite leading to malnutrition and weight loss
  • Cold sweats
  • Swelling and bleeding of mucous membranes
  • Restlessness and anxiety
  • Damage to nasal cavities
  • Damage to lungs
  • Possible heart attacks, strokes, or convulsions

Q.) What are the dangers of mixing other drugs while using crack?

A.) When people mix crack and alcohol consumption, they are compounding the danger each drug poses, and unknowingly forming a complex chemical experiment within their bodies. NIDA-funded researchers have found that the human liver combines crack and alcohol to manufacture a third substance called cocaethylene that intensifies crack's euphoric effects, while possibly increasing the risk of sudden death. Sudden death takes place when the users' body chemistry is imbalanced to the slightest degree. This releases toxic chemicals into their body creating a reaction within the individual resulting in cardiac arrest. This negative reaction to crack's toxic chemicals is the cause of "sudden death".

Q.) What are the symptoms of crack withdrawal?

A.) Crack withdrawal symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • agitation
  • depression
  • intense craving for the drug
  • extreme fatigue
  • anxiety
  • angry outbursts
  • lack of motivation
  • nausea/vomiting
  • shaking
  • irritability
  • muscle pain
  • disturbed sleep

Q) What are the symptoms of a crack overdose?

A) Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of crack usage is the high risk of overdose. Since crack is more potent than street cocaine, it enters the bloodstream more quickly and in higher concentrations. This is particularly risky since smoking the drug makes it difficult to estimate dosage. The most frequent overdose that people experience from smoking crack cocaine is mild and is felt as a very rapid heart beat and hyperventilation. These reactions are often accompanied by a feeling of impending death. Although most people survive, several thousand are killed by overdosing on crack every year. All forms of cocaine and crack cocaine use have been linked with heart failure in users. This also includes otherwise healthy users.

Q) What complications are associated with smoking crack during pregnancy?

A) Crack and Pregnancy:

  • increased incidence of still births
  • increased incidence of miscarriages
  • premature (often fatal) labor and delivery
  • in males, the cocaine in crack may attach to the sperm causing damage to the cells of the fetus.
  • babies exposed to cocaine experience painful and life threatening withdrawal, are irritable, have poor ability to regulate their own body temperature and blood sugar and are at increased risk of having seizures.

Effects of Crack on the Fetus:

  • seizures or strokes
  • cerebral palsy
  • mental retardation
  • vision and hearing impairments
  • urinary tract abnormalities
  • autism and learning disabilities

Q) How widespread is cocaine and crack addiction?

  • In 1997, there were approximately 1.5 million regular users of crack cocaine or powdered cocaine.
  • 1-tenth of the population - over 22 million people have tried cocaine or crack cocaine.
  • Each day 5,000 more people will experiment with cocaine or crack cocaine.
  • Cocaine is a $35 billion illicit industry now exceeding Columbia's #1 export, coffee.
  • 1 in 10 workers say they know someone who uses cocaine or crack cocaine on the job.

Q) What are the crime rates due to crack?

A) Due to the nature of crack addiction, there is a strong link to crime as users seek to fund their habit. During FY 2000, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) made 8,718 arrests involving powder cocaine and 6,734 arrests involving crack. More than 3,000 of those arrested by the DEA for crack related offenses were between the ages of 21 and 30. The DEA made 13,588 cocaine and crack related arrests during FY 2001, representing 38.8% of the total arrests made by the DEA during that year. Also, during FY 2001, 41.2% of the Federal defendants nationwide were charged with committing drug offenses. Crack was involved in 4,941 (20.4%) of the Federal drug cases.

Q) What are the legal consequences of crack cocaine?

A) Crack cocaine is the only drug for which the first offense of simple possession can trigger a federal mandatory minimum sentence. Possession of 5 grams of crack will trigger a 5 year mandatory minimum sentence. "Simple possession of any quantity of any other substance by a first-time offender-including powder cocaine-is a misdemeanor offense punishable by a maximum of one year in prison." (21 U.S.C. 844.)

Source: US Sentencing Commission, Special Report to Congress: Cocaine and Federal Sentencing Policy (Washington DC: US Sentencing Commission, February 1995), p. iii.

In federal court today, low-level crack dealers and first-time offenders sentenced for trafficking of crack cocaine receive an average sentence of 10 years and six months. This is:

--only 18% less than the average prison sentence received by those who committed murder or manslaughter (153 months);
--59% longer than the average prison sentence received by rapists (79 months);
--38% longer than the average prison sentence received by those guilty of weapons offenses (91 months).

Source: US Sentencing Commission, Special Report to the Congress: Cocaine and Federal Sentencing Policy (Washington DC: US Sentencing Commission, February 1995), p. 150; Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 1996 (Washington DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997), p. 476, Table 5.58.

The Sentencing Commission also notes a problem regarding "prosecutorial and investigative sentencing manipulation. For example, because powder cocaine is easily converted into crack cocaine and because the penalties for crack cocaine offenses are significantly higher than for a similar quantity of powder cocaine offenses, law enforcement and prosecutorial decisions to wait until powder has been converted into crack can have a dramatic impact on a defendant's final sentence."

Source: US Sentencing Commission, Special Report to the Congress: Cocaine and Federal Sentencing Policy (Washington, DC: US Sentencing Commission, April 1997), p. 8.

Q) What is the history of crack cocaine?

A) In the early 1980s, the majority of cocaine being shipped to the United States was coming through the Bahamas. 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 shrewd marketing decision to convert the powder to "crack," a smokeable form of cocaine. It was cheap, simple to produce, ready to use, and highly profitable for dealers to develop. As early as 1981, reports of crack appeared in Los Angeles, San Diego, Houston, and in the Caribbean.

At this time, powder cocaine was available on the street at an average of 55 percent purity for $100 per gram. Crack was sold at average purity levels of 80-plus percent for the same price. In some major cities, such as New York, Detroit, and Philadelphia, one dosage unit of crack could be obtained for as little as $2.50. Never before had any form of cocaine been available at such low prices and at such high purity. More important from a marketing standpoint, it produced an instant high which casued users to become addicted in a very short time. Eventually, Caribbean immigrants taught young people in Miami how to produce crack and they in turn went into business in the United States.

With the influx of traffickers and cocaine, South Florida had become a principal area for the "conversion laboratories." These laboratories are used to convert cocaine base into cocaine HCl, the form in which cocaine is sold. The majority of these labs were found in South Florida, but they also appeared in other parts of the country This indicates the expansion of Colombian trafficking.

For example, in 1985, four conversion laboratories were seized in New York State, four in California, two in Virginia, and one each in North Carolina and Arizona. One year later, 23 more conversion labs were seized in the United States.

The first crack house had been discovered in Miami in 1982. However, this form of cocaine was not fully appreciated as a major threat because it was primarily being consumed by middle class users who were not associated with cocaine addicts. In fact, crack was initially considered a purely Miami phenomenon until it became a serious problem in New York City, where it first appeared in December 1983. In the New York City area, it was estimated that more than three-fourths of the early crack consumers were white professionals or middle-class youngsters from Long Island, suburban New Jersey, or upper-class Westchester County. However, partly because crack sold for as little as $5 a rock, it ultimately spread to less affluent neighborhoods.

The crack epidemic dramatically increased the numbers of Americans addicted to cocaine. In 1985, the number of people who admitted using cocaine on a routine basis increased from 4.2 million to 5.8 million, according to the Department of Health and Human Service's National Household Survey. Likewise, cocaine-related hospital emergencies continued to increase nationwide during 1985 and 1986. According to DAWN statistics, in 1985, cocaine-related hospital emergencies rose by 12 percent, from 23,500 to 26,300; and in 1986, they increased 110 percent, from 26,300 to 55,200. Between 1984 and 1987, cocaine incidents increased fourfold.

By this time, the Medellin cartel was at the height of its power. They controlled cocaine trafficking from the conversion and packaging process in Colombia, to the transportation of cocaine to the United States, as well as the first level of wholesale distribution in U.S. communities. While the Medellin cartel had established a foothold in U.S. communities, its rival, the Cali mafia, began to dominate markets in the Northeastern United States. The Cali mafia was less visible, less violent, and more businesslike than the Medellin cartel. Operating through a system of cells, where members were insulated from one another, the Cali mafia steadily began establishing far-reaching networks that eventually ensured that they would dominate the cocaine trade well into the 1990s.

By early 1986, crack had a stranglehold on the ghettos of New York City and was dominated by traffickers and dealers from the Dominican Republic. Crack distribution and abuse exploded in 1986, and by year-end was available in 28 states and the District of Columbia. According to the 1985-1986 National Narcotics Intelligence Consumers Committee Report, crack was available in Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Kansas City, Miami, New York City, Newark, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Dallas, Denver, Minneapolis, and Phoenix.

Meanwhile, wholesale and retail prices for cocaine had declined, while purity levels for kilogram amounts of the drug had remained at 90 percent or higher. Street-level gram purity rose from 25 percent in 1981, to 55 percent in 1987, to 70 percent in 1988. By the late 1980s, over 10,000 gang members were dealing drugs in some 50 cities from Baltimore to Seattle. The crack trade had created a violent sub-world, and crack-related murders in many large cities were skyrocketing. For example, a 1988 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that in New York City, crack use was tied to 32% of all homicides and 60% of drug-related homicides. On a daily basis, the evening news reported the violence of drive-by shootings and crack users trying to obtain money for their next hit. Smokeable crack appealed to a new group of users, especially women, because it did not have the stigma associated with needles or heroin. Since crack was smoked, many mistakenly equated crack with marijuana. As a result, a generation of addicted children were born to--and frequently abandoned by--crack-using mothers. By the late 1980s, about one out of every 10 newborns in the United States (375,000 per year) had been exposed in the womb to one or more illicit drug.

In October 1986, Attorney General Edwin Meese explained the U.S. anti-crack strategy: "The most effective long-term way to reduce crack trafficking is to reduce the amount of cocaine entering this country. The federal government's main priorities against cocaine are reducing production in source countries, interdicting shipments entering the United States, and disrupting major trafficking rings." Thus, the DEA attacked the major trafficking organizations, primarily the Medellin and Cali cartels, which were producing cocaine and smuggling it into the United States. To help accomplish this, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 allocated $8 million for domestic cocaine enforcement. A portion of this budget was used to establish DEA Crack Teams. Each of these teams consisted of two DEA special agents who assisted state and local law enforcement agencies in the investigation of large-scale violators and interstate trafficking networks.

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 later provided $44 million to the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) grant program for urban law enforcement agencies, and $1.5 million was made available for the establishment of five Crack Task Forces, which were established in Los Angeles, Houston, Minneapolis, Denver, and Detroit. The DEA assisted these task forces through mutual sharing of information on crack trafficking organizations and by attending periodic meetings of the task forces. By the late 1980s, the DEA's domestic crack cocaine enforcement activities were conducted through three multi-agency initiatives: DEA Crack Teams, Department of Justice's BJA Crack Task Forces, and State and Local Task Forces. Additionally, the DEA supported 40 state and local task forces and 11 shared-funding task forces that investigated mid-level and street narcotics violators. Cocaine investigations dominated DEA enforcement activities, as cocaine arrests accounted for nearly 65 percent of the DEA's total arrests in 1988. Simultaneously, DEA seizures substantially increased. The DEA had seized only 200 kilos of cocaine in 1977; but the number of seizures jumped to 60,000 kilos by 1988.