The crack cocaine epidemic which struck the United States during the early 1980s was one of the darkest chapters in the history of the War on Drugs. While a handful of drug traffickers became extraordinarily wealthy within a short period of time, the illicit substance wreaked havoc in urban areas across the country and caused both homicides and prison convictions to skyrocket.
The Evolution Of Crack
To understand crack, you must first understand cocaine, which it’s derived from. Both come from the coca plant, which was first cultivated in South America during the 19th century. Initially it was used for medical purposes, and indigenous tribes living in the area had known of its existence for centuries. Doctors experimented with its usage during surgical operations that required anesthesia. Due to its ability to increase energy levels and alertness, they also prescribed it to those who were suffering from depression, stress or other mental disorders.
At the time it was also used as a commercial ingredient, specifically in the beverage known as French Wine Coca. It was sold in the United States until Prohibition, at which point it was phased out in favor of sweet syrup which used cocaine as an ingredient. Coca Cola also used cocaine as one of the ingredients in its beverages at the time, but removed it by 1901. Even then officials had noticed the addictive properties of the drug and its role in a number of deaths. By 1914 it was finally declared illegal and was banned in the United States.
By the late 1970s a number of criminal organizations in South America had learned how to successfully mass produce cocaine and begin selling it in the United States, were it became popular at parties and other recreational settings. Colombia and its Medellin and Cali Cartels were some of the most powerful traffickers, but Nicaraguan and other Latin American groups were involved as well. This combined with the help of the CIA, who used drug money to fund their black operations, led to an explosion in usage in the United States.
The Crack Epidemic
However, while the profits earned from cocaine were fabulous, there was a problem; the drug was simply too expensive for most people to afford. Even a small amount of it cost more than many Americans made in a single month, meaning that only the rich could buy it. Dealers begin experimenting with ways to reduce costs by chopping up the cocaine and mixing it with sodium bicarbonate and ammonia. This new substance was called crack, and although it was not on par with pure cocaine, it was also much more affordable.
This led to a massive epidemic of drug usage which swept across cities such as New York, Miami and Los Angeles. Drug dealers could become millionaires overnight; and there were stories of teenage traffickers who made enough to buy Ferraris. Many of their counterparts in South America became billionaires. All of this had a dark side, however, which was the violence. Thousands of people were massacred in urban turf wars, many of them innocent bystanders. Additionally, the lives of those who became addicted were often ruined.