The Vermont Cynic

Cocaine: Past and Present


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Cocaine: What it is and Where it is

Cocaine is an alkaloid found in leaves of the South American shrub Erythroxylon coca. It is a powerfully reinforcing psychostimulant. The active ingredient of the coca plant was first isolated in the West by Albert Niemann around 1860. Sigmund Freud, an early enthusiast, described cocaine as a magical drug. Freud wrote a song of praise in its honour; and he practised extensive self-experimentation. To Sherlock Holmes, cocaine was “so transcendently stimulating and clarifying to the mind that its secondary action is a matter of small moment.” Robert Louis Stephenson wrote The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde during a six-day cocaine-binge. Intrepid polar adventurer Ernest Shackleton explored Antarctica propelled by tablets of Forced March.

Doctors dispensed cocaine as an antidote to morphine addiction. Unfortunately, some of their patients made a habit of combining both. The drug induces a sense of exhilaration in the user primarily by blocking the reuptake of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the midbrain.

When combined with alcohol, the cocaine alkaloid yields a further potently reinforcing compound, now known to be cocaethylene. Thus cocaine was a popular ingredient in wines, notably Vin Mariani. Coca wine received endorsement from prime-ministers, royalty and even the Pope. Architect Frederick-Auguste Bartholdi remarked that if only he had used Vin Mariani earlier in his life, then he would have engineered the Statue of Liberty a few hundred meters higher.

Coca-cola was first introduced in 1886 as “a valuable brain-tonic and cure for all nervous afflictions.” Coca-cola was promoted and marketed as a temperance drink “offering the virtues of coca without the vices of alcohol.” The new beverage was invigorating and popular. Until 1903, a typical serving contained around 60mg of cocaine. Sold today, it still contains an extract of coca-leaves. The Coca-Cola Company imports eight tons from South America each year. Nowadays the leaves are used only for flavouring since the drug has been removed.

Cocaine in Vermont and at UVM

Cocaine use has been a problem for Vermonters since the mid 1980s when cocaine first became easily and readily available. Since the 1980s cocaine has seen a decline through the early 1990s and a noticeable increase in recent years.

Last year 3.3 kgs of cocaine were confiscated in Vermont, and in the past 18 months the Burlington Police Department has seized 5.5 lbs of cocaine.

Although there has been a “undeniable increase” in the presence of cocaine, and cocaine related arrests in Burlington (20 cocaine related arrests in the past year), of the 56 drug related arrests last year at UVM none dealt with cocaine. Cocaine arrests remain minimal at UVM, but UVM Police services are weary to label UVM sans cocaine, noting that although the frequency of arrests is low, “cocaine is still present at UVM”.

Accurate statistics about cocaine use at UVM are difficult to quantify given the illegal and taboo nature of cocaine use.

Most of the arrests at UVM during 2002 were cases involving misdemeanor to felony possession/distribution of marijuana. While marijuana has popularly been linked to UVM since the inception of the April 20th marijuana demonstration more than 25 years ago, cocaine has made a strong comeback since the decline of cocaine use in that began in the early 1990s, according to Lieutenant Shawn Burke of the Burlington Police Department.

Drug law violations have risen steadily at UVM, with 145 violations reported in 1998 and 246 violations in 2002. Although there has been a definitive increase in cocaine use in Burlington and UVM in recent years, this trend has also signaled a significant decline in heroin use, with only 14 grams of heroin confiscated last year and 17 heroin related arrests last year.

Cocaine related seizure in Vermont totaled 3.3kgs ranking Vermont alongside other New England states like New Hampshire (3.7kg total cocaine seizure) and Maine (.5kg total cocaine seizure).

Cocaine: National Trends

U.S. federal authorities seized over 111 metric tons of cocaine in Calendar Year 2001. This moderate increase over the nearly 107 metric tons seized in 2000 is due in part to an increase in maritime seizures in the Southwest Pacific. Maritime seizures in this region increased by 9 metric tons between CY 2000 and CY 2001. Two of the more notable seizures in the Eastern Pacific corridor in CY 2001 reflect the importance of the region in cocaine movement to the United States. In February 2001, the fishing vessel Forever My Friend was intercepted with over 17 metric tons of cocaine. In May 2001, the fishing vessel Svesda Maru was seized with another 17 metric tons of cocaine on board.

As recent as October 17th, 2003 two Coast Guard cutters confiscated almost 13,000 pounds of cocaine and marijuana on routine sea patrols. The Coast Guard plans to turn over $370 million worth of illegal drugs to authorities in Florida and New Jersey after making four separate seizures in the Caribbean during the month of October.

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Cocaine: Past and Present