Substance Abuse in Appalachia: Cocaine

While virtually every region in the world has a problem with illicit drugs, the effects of these drugs are unique in Appalachia, particularly cocaine. While mostly thought of as an urban drug, cocaine is actually one of the leading abused substances in the Appalachian region, in both powder and crack forms. In 2007 alone, 215.96 kilograms of both powder and crack cocaine were seized in the Appalachian regions of Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee (NDIC 3). However, not all of these seizures involved native Appalachians. In fact, Mexican DTO’s or Drug Trafficking Organizations, contribute to the initial distribution within the Appalachian region. These DTO’s “use stash locations in the region to store illicit drugs prior to distribution, particularly powder cocaine” and “supply most midlevel and retail-level distributors in the region” (NDIC 8). These midlevel and retail-level distributors are the primary source of cocaine production in the region, which is the conversion of powder cocaine to crack cocaine (NDIC 6).

The large amounts of cocaine production and distribution in the region do not come without consequences to the area. According to the March 2002 Summit Conference, the Coalition on Appalachian Substance Abuse Policy, or Coalition ASAP, there are several unique characteristics that separate Appalachia from other regions on the topic of substance abuse. One of these characteristics is that the majority of the money spent on drugs leaves the area, profiting drug lords who often reside in foreign countries. This allows the local economies of Appalachia to be weakened by an underachieving workforce and by those abusing the Welfare system to “get their fix.” Another concern is that treatment for those affected by cocaine abuse is costly and sometimes is not effective due to the fact that many medical providers are not equipped to handle substance abuse of this magnitude. Combining these previous issues with factors such as low levels of education, high unemployment, and job-related injuries and the link between illicit drugs and Appalachia is even clearer (C. Cole). This economic disparity is what allows DTO’s to continue to make a profit at the expense of the Appalachians. Many argue that if factors such as education and employment were not in such distress, illicit drugs such as cocaine would not be as big a problem as they are now. Organizations such as the Appalachian Regional Conference (ARC) and Coalition ASAP are looking into these concerns and continuing to examine these issues in depth with hopes of finding solutions in the near future.

While Coalition ASAP is working hard to identify and solve problems with substance abuse in Appalachia, local law enforcement agencies have their hands full. According to the National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) conducted by the NDIC in 2007, “13 of the 34 local law enforcement agencies in the Appalachia HIDTA [High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas] that responded to the NDTS 2007 identified crack cocaine as the drug that most contributed to violent crime in their jurisdictions” (NDIC 10). While local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies are working hard to stop the production and trade of cocaine and other drugs, the outlook for Appalachia is not promising. With Mexican immigration increasing in the area, DTO’s will probably become more entrenched in the region, magnifying the production and distribution of cocaine (NDIC 11). Many DTO’s will continue to capitalize on the remoteness of the region and its economic disparity to further their outreach and influence on the East Coast.

Works Cited

United States. U.S. Department of Justice. National Drug Intelligence Center. Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Drug Market Analysis 2008. June 2008.

C. Cole, “Coalition on Substance Abuse Policy,” Conference Proceedings, 7 March 2002.

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