Cocaine Abuse on the Rise in the United States and Europe

By 4 Therapy

Have you heard the story about the experts who tested paper money and found that almost every sample contained traces of cocaine?

It sounds like an urban legend -- you know, one of those "facts" that find their way to you courtesy of someone who goes to school with your friend's neighbor's cousin's barber's son.

Except this one is actually kind of true.

According to an Aug. 16 article by Tiffany Sharples of Time magazine, a test of paper currency from urban areas in five nations found the following:

  • Traces of cocaine were found on 85 to 90 percent of currency from "big metropolitan areas" in the United States and Canada.
  • Eighty percent of paper money in Brazil was found to contain cocaine residue.
  • In China and Japan, the cocaine contamination rate of tested paper currency was between 12 and 20 percent.

The currency analysis was conducted by researchers at the University of Massachusetts who operated under the direction of chemistry professor Yuegang Zuo.

Increased Abuse in the U.S.

In addition to being the answer to a trivia question -- and the topic of more than one "did you hear about this?" e-mail chain -- the prevalence of cocaine residue on currency indicates that the drug most closely associated with the 1980s may be making a 21st century comeback.

As Sharples reported in her Time article, the recent revelations about cocaine and paper money don't represent the first scientific inquiry in this area. In fact, Prof. Zuo led a similar study two years ago -- and the difference in results between the two studies supports fears that cocaine abuse is once again on the rise.

In 2007, Prof. Zuo found that about 67 percent of U.S. bills contained trace amounts of cocaine. Two years later, that rate had risen by 20 percent.

Although these two studies alone don't provide definitive proof that cocaine abuse and addiction are increasing, they are consistent with other evidence indicating that this dangerous drug is experiencing a resurgence in popularity.

A Growing Problem in the U.K.

According to an Aug. 26 article by Chris Green of British newspaper The Independent, the annual number of cocaine-related deaths in the United Kingdom rose by 20 percent between 2007 and 2008:

Last month, figures showed that almost a million adults used cocaine in England and Wales last year, a rise of 25 per cent. About one in 10 people admitted trying the drug -- three times as many as 15 years ago -- with 439,000 of users in their late teens or early 20s.

Today, drug charities said the rise in cocaine-related deaths could be explained by its wide availability and the fact it has fallen in price over the last 10 years. In some areas of the UK, a gram can now be bought for as little as £30 [about $50].

"A lot of people who take cocaine will be drinking as well,” Elliot Elam, a representative of the British drug treatment charity Addaction, told Green. “When [cocaine is] taken with alcohol, it forms a compound in the stomach which is hugely poisonous and can be deadly, causing heart attacks and all sorts of other problems which most people aren’t aware of.”

Ireland not Immune

In an article on the website of the Irish Medical Times, writer Niamh Mullen reported on a "massive rise" in the number of Irish citizens who are seeking treatment for cocaine abuse and addiction in this decade.

In the five years between 2002 and 2007, the number of Irish men and women who sought treatment for cocaine addiction increased from 954 to 2,643, Mullen reported. That is a 177 percent increase in the annual rate of treatment for cocaine-related problems.

Mullen provided the following details about the state of cocaine abuse and addiction in Ireland today:

  • Twenty percent of people who entered treatment for drug addiction cited cocaine as their problem drug.
  • Among those who abused multiple drugs, cocaine was often named along with opiates, alcohol and marijuana.
  • The number of individuals who sought treatment for cocaine addiction in Dublin was lower than expected, but this was attributed to the fact that many cocaine users in Dublin are also addicted to opiates, and claimed opiate abuse and addiction as their primary drug problems.

The information on cocaine abuse in Ireland that Mullen's article addressed was provided in a report by Ireland's Health Research Board.

Help for Cocaine Addiction

Depending upon a number of circumstances -- including the nature and severity of a person's addiction, a habit of abusing other substances and the presence of co-occurring mental health disorders -- effective treatment for cocaine addiction may take the form of outpatient therapy, partial hospitalization, residential treatment, participation in a recovery support group or a combination thereof.

Residential treatment programs for cocaine addiction often provide the most comprehensive and specialized program of services, with treatment including medically supervised detox; cognitive behavioral therapy; individual, group and family therapy; and help with other physical, psychological and emotional challenges.

Some cocaine addiction treatment programs also provide specific treatment tracks for men, women, teens, executives and a range of other client populations.

Given the wide variety of treatment programs for cocaine addiction, it is important that potential clients and their families educate themselves about the opportunities that are available to them, and select the program that best meets their needs.

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