A new survey finds that 6.2 percent of high school seniors have used powder cocaine in their lifetime and 2.5 percent have used crack—a result that underscores the contention that, despite their pharmacological similarity, crack and powder vary in usage. (Credit: Lucian Cesca/Flickr)

For teens, two kinds of cocaine are not the same

Powder cocaine and crack are usually reported together as “cocaine” use, despite having different effects and rates of negative consequences.

Use of the two forms of the drug by high school seniors has fluctuated in recent years but little attention has been paid to those important differences when developing programming and messaging to stem the drug’s use.

“Powder cocaine and crack are commonly collapsed into a single ‘cocaine use’ category in research, despite different contexts of use, reasons for use, and rates of dependence, and adverse outcomes associated with use,” says Danielle Ompad, a faculty member in the department of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University.

“While powder and crack cocaine do have many similar determinants, this study helped delineate overlapping, but different risk profiles associated with use,” says Joseph Palamar, assistant professor in the departments of population health and child and adolescent psychiatry.

Even in light of recent changes to sentencing guidelines, disparities between crack and powder cocaine remain high—possessing 500 grams of powder cocaine results in a five-year sentence while just 28 grams of crack brings on the same prison term.

For a new study published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, Palamar and Ompad examined 2005-2011 data from the Monitoring the Future (MTF) study, a national survey that questions high-school seniors in 130 public and private high schools on behaviors, attitudes, and values.

Specifically, they examined demographic and economic correlations of cocaine use, then compared and contrasted correlates of powder versus crack cocaine as well as use of both forms while controlling for a range of variables.

More cash, more cocaine use

Overall, the survey show that 6.2 percent of high school seniors have used powder cocaine in their lifetime and 2.5 percent have used crack—a result that underscores the researchers’ contention that, despite their pharmacological similarity, crack and powder vary in usage.

In many instances, however, the likelihood of using either crack or powder cocaine does not vary among high-school seniors. Earning more than $50 a week from a job or from sources other than a job (e.g., an allowance) significantly increases the odds for both cocaine and crack use.

In addition, identifying oneself as “religious” and having parents with higher levels of education is associated with lower use of both forms.

The researchers point to many other differences in usage. For instance, female students are less likely to use powder cocaine while students who identify themselves as “religious” are more likely to report use of crack only.

Users of only powder cocaine—without use of crack—are more likely to reside in a metropolitan area compared to crack users, Ompad says.

“While crack use may be perceived to be more visible in urban areas, possibly due to more problematic use, in reality, powder cocaine appears to be more prevalent in these parts of the country.”

Source: New York University

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