Drug and Alcohol

Feb 242005
Authors: Brian Park

Colorado residents were the number one users of cocaine in the nation in 2002 and 2003, according to recent government findings.

The state's residents also ranked high in alcohol consumption and marijuana use.

Among the age group of 18- to 25-year-olds approximately 10.3 percent of respondents said they use cocaine, second only to Rhode Island residents. About 47 percent of the same age group surveyed reported to have binged on alcohol in the past month, which ranked 11th in the nation. Binge drinking is defined as at least five drinks in a row for men and four for women, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism National Advisory Council.

"I was not shocked at all about the findings," said Pam McCracken, director of the Center for Drug and Alcohol Education at the Hartshorn Health Center. "The state has been in the top 10 before and we have been No. 1 in marijuana use in some findings, so no I was not surprised."

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, which is a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, released the report. The study was conducted over the span of two years and surveyed 136,000 people.

When asked about marijuana, 1 in 12 Coloradans reported smoking it in the past year, while 1 in 25 Coloradoans reported using cocaine over the course of last year. The age group of 18- to 25-year-olds in Colorado ranked No. 1 nationally when using drugs other than marijuana.

Even though cocaine has been on the rise, McCracken said the No.1 drug of choice for college students is still alcohol.

Seven students have died in alcohol-related incidents in Colorado this school year. The deaths have raised alcohol awareness and aroused public officials as well as universities to address substance abuse problems.

"Colorado is definitely one of the top states in the nation with a substance abuse problem," said Janet Wood, director of the Drug and Alcohol Abuse Division of the Colorado State Department of Human Services.

Wood said that even though the study was conducted in 2003 and is a little dated the numbers are consistent with findings by her department. The surprising statistic to Wood was the cocaine use of Coloradans. Methamphetamines also moved up into the top three substances abused by Coloradans, overtaking cocaine.

"Alcohol and marijuana rank number one and two in the state for abuse problems and that has been so for many, many years," Wood said.

According to Craig Dodd the Commander of the Larimer County Drug Task Force, the use of cocaine and methamphetamine is significantly on the rise in Larimer County. From July 1, 2003, to June 30, 2004, the task force made 558 methamphetamine arrests compared to 327 for the same time period for the year before, Dodd said.

The use of cocaine is increasing because the drug is now cheaper to buy than methamphetamine, Dodd said.

"Cocaine is being sold $200 to $300 cheaper by the ounce than methamphetamine," Dodd said. "My feeling is that the drug dealers are offering cocaine at reduced costs to take back part of money that has been lost to the methamphetamine market."

Across the board there has been an increase in methamphetamine use and according to Dodd it is the preferred drug of choice for 18- to 25-year-olds.

McCracken said Colorado ranks very low on spending for drug and alcohol prevention and treatment and that seems to coincide with the numbers that were released.

There are many other factors that could have contributed to these numbers as well. McCracken said a high tourist population, people who temporarily work here and the amount of people moving into Colorado all could be reasons.

"It is hard to say though," McCracken said. "There is no real, clear cut answer."

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