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Cocaine use: Will the factors behind its steady decline continue?

The US government released more good news this month about impeding entry of cocaine into the country. Still, opinions vary when it comes to interpreting the overall cocaine-use decline and the possible reasons for it.

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Antonio Hammond, a rehabilitated crack cocaine addict who robbed cars and lived in abandoned buildings, folds a pair of trousers in his bedroom as he gets ready for his $13/hour job in Baltimore.

Patrick Semansky/AP

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Cocaine use and a host of problems associated with the drug have been declining steadily in the United States in recent years – with at least a 40 percent drop in people using cocaine since 2006.

“I’ve never seen such a rapid decline for such an addictive drug,” says Peter Reuter, a public-policy professor and drug-economy expert at the University of Maryland in College Park.

Some supply-side factors, as well as demand-side issues, have contributed to the downward trend, according to medical, academic, and drug-policy experts.

A US-Colombian partnership has contributed to a 44 percent drop in the capacity for pure cocaine production in the Andean region since 2001, according to July’s annual estimate by the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). In addition, interceptions along trafficking routes by the Coast Guard and Defense Department have decreased the amount of cocaine entering the country, the ONDCP reports.

Still, opinions vary when it comes to interpreting the overall cocaine trend and the possible reasons for it. How much is there to celebrate, some ask, given the broader context of illicit drug use in the US – which has risen slightly in recent years, largely because of a rise in the use of marijuana (see accompanying chart).

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