January 30, 2023

Drug Abuse

Cocaine Is Back, Killing More Than Ever

The signs: Increased business at rehab centers. Those Ski-related personal ads. A big spike in death rates.

Amy Keller | 5/1/2008

Cocaine Price/Death Relationship
Year
Price per gram Florida
deaths
2000
$151 1,034
2001
111 1,105
2002
96 1,307
2003
82 1,614
2004
93 1,702
2005
107 1,943
2006
93 2,052
2007 119 N/A
Sources: Medical Examiner’s Commission, U.N. World Drug Report, Drug Enforcement Administration

South Florida also remains a hotbed of cocaine use. These days, the “Casual Encounters” ads on the Craigslist website in Miami are full of solicitations like the one posted by a 30-year-old man from South Beach looking for a “sexy female to join me for some skiing.” Elsewhere, a 33-year-old man says he’s looking for “snow bunnies” to “help me finish this slope.” Other postings make it more obvious that the writers, in addition to looking for sex, are seeking to share cocaine. “Anyone know a good, safe ski delivery?” asks a 27-year-old Boca Raton man.

What’s attracting the new users? Low prices, for one. Between 2001 and 2006, the price of a gram of cocaine averaged about 30% less than it was in 2000. A late-2007 jump in the price to around $120 — attributed to a crackdown by Mexico on several cartels that disrupted supply — still left the price substantially less than its peak in the early 1980s, when a gram of pure cocaine cost as much as $600.

Dr. Bruce Goldberger
Dr. Bruce Goldberger, who runs UF’s Forensic Toxicology Laboratory, noted that cocaine-related deaths spiked from 1,034 in 2000 to 2,052 in 2006. [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]

Experts also say the new users don’t know what the previous generation learned about cocaine’s dangers. In the minds of many, powder cocaine simply doesn’t carry the same stigma as crack cocaine, and some mistakenly believe it is somehow safer. Some college-age women are turning to the drug for weight control, says Dr. Scott Teitelbaum, a University of Florida professor and medical director of the Florida Recovery Center. Meanwhile, cocaine-abusing celebrities like model Kate Moss and singer Amy Winehouse contribute to the drug’s glamorous image. “Those are dangerous role models for our youth,” says Bill Janes, Gov. Charlie Crist’s drug adviser.

Richard W. Perry Jr. was a 19-year-old sophomore at Valencia Community College in Orlando when he returned home to Tequesta in North Palm Beach County in 2000 and admitted to his parents that he was a drug addict. “He told me he had a problem and he wanted to quit school because of it. He was fiending for cocaine. We were shocked. We were absolutely shocked,” recalls Karen Perry, Richard’s mother.

Richard Perry left school, and his parents got him into treatment. He spent some time working for his father’s security company while going through outpatient therapy and returned to Valencia in May 2002. Somewhere along the line, his mother says, he relapsed. In June 2003, police officers showed up at Perry’s home in Tequesta with the news that their 21-year-old son had been found dead in his apartment. An autopsy determined that Perry had consumed a lethal combination of cocaine, heroin, prescription drugs and alcohol.

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