Once at a frat party, one of my friends cried out “I want to try cocaine!” and as a neuroscience major, my immediate shambled response was, “But what about your dopamine receptors?” My response at the time contained some validity: cocaine definitely isn’t great for your brain. But what I didn’t realize that night was that cocaine trafficking endangers and hurts a lot of people before it ever reaches college campuses. Cocaine usage on college campuses causes its own slew of health issues, but before it ever arrives on campus or even gets into the United States it has left a path of violence, death and human rights violations. The United States is the largest consumer of cocaine in the world illegally importing cocaine from Mexico and Columbia, leaving the brunt of the violence associated with drug smuggling in these countries.
Drug use in college is more prevalent than you might think. But do you know the origins of these drugs?
Cocaine movement in the United States
Once cocaine arrives in the United States, it can take several different pathways to reach dealers and buyers. Traffickers have frequently utilized the Postal Service Office to distribute cocaine to clients.
Cocaine brought into the United States often originates at Los Angeles, Phoenix, Houston and couriers move cocaine into Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Miami and Houston, where there is a larger population of users. Then cocaine is distributed into smaller markets, including college campuses. “While we don’t have specific data about the frequency of cocaine use on campus, we do know that it is a very real problem here, and statistics show it is perhaps the fourth most common drug of abuse after alcohol, nicotine and marijuana,” physician at the College of William and Mary Dr. David Dafashy said. Accurately documenting the usage of cocaine on college campuses and finding the distributors is nearly impossible and allows drug trafficking to continue. A longitudinal study of 1,253 college students at a large, public, mid-Atlantic university reported that 36 percent of college students are offered cocaine and one in eight students use cocaine at least once.
We often associate cocaine with heart attacks and addiction, however, equally concerning are the less talked about side effects. While cocaine immediately induces a euphoria by increasing dopamine levels, in the long term, usage decreases reward-center pleasure neurons by 10 to 20 percent, resulting in depression. Furthermore, negative drug interactions can occur, and it is difficult to safely take prescribed medications when cocaine is being used. For example, Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitor (MAIOs) antidepressants and cocaine can cause extremely high blood pressure, chest pain, vomiting and severe headaches. Other antidepressants can cause sedation effects when combined with cocaine.
Students in the United States experiencing substance abuse or struggling with addiction can reach out to the National Drug Helpline 24/7. They can also call the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Hope Line at 1-800-NCA-CALL (622-2255) for assistance and they have affiliate organizations nationwide. Individual states also have their own helplines. The National Institute on Drug Abuse is a resource to gain information about addiction and the resources available in the United States. University medical centers and hospitals can refer people to recovery centers, counselors, addiction specialists or clinics if needed.
How drug trafficking threatens human rights globally
A human rights crisis has been defined by the National Center for Biotechnology Information as “suffering, injury and death related to drug trafficking [that] continues to expand, resulting in the exorbitant loss of lives and cost in productivity across the continent.” In Mexico, drug-related violence is a major problem, with official figures reporting the occurrence of approximately 28,000 drug-related killings in the past 4 years. Government analysis of the 6,000 people who died in 2008 as a result of organized crime violence revealed that nine out of ten of those deaths involved either individuals associated with the drug trade or law enforcement officials. According to studies conducted in Mexico, the number of homicides grew from 8,867 in 2007 to 27,199 in 2011.
This extreme violence and related injuries have devastating consequences for poor economies and causes a long-term stigma on these societies. “[Drug trafficking has] Truncated democratic processes and made Latin America increasingly vulnerable to corruption,” professor of International Studies at the University of Miami Dr. Bruce Bagley said. The current climate of social violence in Central America and the illegal immigration to the US most likely have connections to this phenomenon of drug trafficking, gang violence and crime.
The growing international public condemnation of drug trafficking organizations is most likely stimulated by the organizations’ diversification into street crime, which causes more harm to average Mexican civilians than intra- and inter-drug trafficking violence related to conflicts over drug trafficking. “[Diversification of drug trafficking organizations has caused] Increased violence from large and small sized organizations, has intensified murder and homicide rates and increased the penetration of government institutions,” Bagley said. Because these organizations have diversified, many analysts now refer to them as transnational criminal organizations, organized crime groups or simply mafias, while others argue that much of their non-drug criminal activity is in service of the central drug trafficking business.
Cocaine on campus
On average, 447 full time college students try cocaine for the first time every day. Cocaine appeals to college students who are looking for increased stimulation to study, party or keep up with the demands of an overloaded schedule. Cocaine is also appealing because the effects are induced immediately after intake. Campus drug use has been increasing for decades, as nearly half of full-time college students binge drink or abuse drugs at least once a month, according to a 2007 study by the national Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse on drugs in American colleges. The percentage of students that smoke marijuana or use other illegal drugs, such as cocaine or heroin, doubled from 1993 to 2005.
A human rights crisis is occurring in Mexico as result of the United States’ high demand for cocaine, resulting in the loss of lives and high cost in productivity across the continent. Economies have stalled and crashed, lives have ended, and the money generated from drug trafficking has been used to fund kidnapping, extortion and human smuggling, which creates a culture of violence and fear and takes a massively unjust toll on the lives of Mexican citizens.
When cocaine enters the United States, it eventually makes its way to college campuses. The exact usage of cocaine on college campuses remains unknown. Consuming cocaine safely is never possible because of its immediate health effects, potential interactions with prescription medications and long-term consequences including depression and addiction. Therefore, cocaine causes a myriad of social, economic and human rights issues in Mexico, and in the United States, cocaine causes health problems for those who use it.