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American cocaine use is way up; Colombia's coca boom might be why

Published Mar. 4, 2017

While much of the recent attention on drug abuse in the U.S. has focused on the heroin and opioid epidemic, cocaine has also been making a comeback. It appears to be a case of supply driving demand. After years of falling output, the size of Colombia's illegal coca crop has exploded since 2013.

"There are troubling early signs that cocaine use and availability is on the rise in the United States for the first time in nearly a decade," the State Department noted this week in its annual report on the narcotics trade.

According to test samples of the drug seized on the streets, 90 percent of the cocaine for sale in the U.S. is of Colombian origin, according to the report.

The number of overdose deaths in the United States involving cocaine in 2015 was the highest since 2006 and the second-highest since 1999, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported in December.

And the number of young Americans who admitted to trying cocaine for the first time increased a whopping 61 percent from 2013 to 2015, the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health found.

This surge in consumption can be traced directly to Colombia's bumper harvest. The country's illegal coca crop doubled between 2013 and 2015, reaching nearly 400,000 acres. That's almost twice as much as the combined output of Peru and Bolivia, the world's second- and third-largest producers.

Cocaine trafficking from Colombia is at "record levels," the State Department acknowledged, warning that even bigger loads are probably on the way.

U.S. officials have been watching Colombia's coca-growing bonanza with rising alarm in recent years, but they generally refrained from criticizing the country too loudly at a time when President Juan Manuel Santos was engaged in peace talks with the leftist FARC rebels who dominated the drug trade.

A final peace accord was signed in November.

The State Department report praised the Colombian government as a faithful and determined partner in the drug war.

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