tampabay.com

Cocaine purer and cheaper for U.S. users despite efforts

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published April 28, 2007


BOGOTA, Colombia - Cocaine prices in the United States have dropped and the drug's purity has increased, despite years of effort and nearly $5-billion spent by the U.S. government to combat Colombia's drug industry, the White House drug czar acknowledged in a letter to a key senator.

The drug czar, John Walters, wrote Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, that retail cocaine prices fell by 11 percent from February 2005 to October 2006, to about $135 per gram of pure cocaine - hovering near the same levels since the early 1990s. In 1981, when the U.S. government began collecting data, a gram of pure cocaine fetched $600.

The purity of this cocaine, meanwhile, has "trended somewhat toward former levels, " as well, Walters said in the letter, citing data from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Colombia supplies 90 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States. Declining prices and rising purity could also suggest weakening demand, but several household and school-based surveys show that America's cocaine consumption has barely budged since 2000, and demand in Europe has increased.

Colombia's president, Alvaro Uribe, is set to meet with President Bush at the White House on Wednesday to discuss U.S. support for Plan Colombia, the anti-narcotics and counterinsurgency program that has cost American taxpayers billions since 2000.

U.S. officials have insisted repeatedly that Plan Colombia is reducing the quality and availability of cocaine to American users.

But Grassley, in an e-mailed statement to the AP, said the new data is "all the proof that anybody needs" that the White House drug office "has gotten quite good at spinning the numbers, but cooking the books doesn't help our efforts to curb cocaine and heroin production and consumption."

Rafael Lemaitre, a spokesman for the White House Office described the letter as "an accurate reflection of our agency's thoughts on the issue."