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As Utah continues fighting methamphetamine, police and social workers say another stimulant is gaining popularity - one that gained infamy in the 1980s.
Crack cocaine is appearing in neighborhoods and drug markets throughout Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County. Detectives say quantities of crack have burgeoned in the last two years.
"It's all based on market forces," said Patrick Fleming, the director of the Salt Lake County Division of Substance Abuse.
Fleming says crack has become cheaper and less risky than meth while producing a similar euphoric rush.
Salt Lake City police Lt. Mike Ross said narcotics detectives there seized 220 percent more crack in 2007 than they did in the previous year. Police in Pioneer Park found dozens of people trying to buy and sell crack when detectives conducted an anti-crime sweep there in November, but Ross said drug dealers on the city's east are selling crack, too.
"In my 16 years here (with the police department) we've never seen a crack cocaine problem like we have now," Ross said.
One recovering drug user, a 47-year-old who identified himself only as Wayne, said when he first arrived in Salt Lake City in 1998, he could not find crack downtown.
"The crack scene here is really, really growing," Wayne said Thursday.
Communities neighboring Salt Lake City also have seen a rise in crack. Kelly Birky, a narcotics detective at the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office, said in the last year she has served at least six search warrants on people selling only crack. Many crack dealers pack the drug in balloons then carry the balloons in their mouths so they can be swallowed if police arrive. Those dealers, sometimes called "spitters," often sell around schools.
"When we started seeing the balloon dealers selling it, that's when we knew it was a problem," Birky said.
Birky ranks heroine as the area's top drug problem while Ross says it's still meth. But both detectives agree crack is growing in popularity. Local dealers are having powder cocaine shipped from Mexico then converting that to crack, the detectives said.
Crack was considered a plague upon America's urban neighborhoods in the 1980s, but the problem large-scale problems did not materialize in Utah. The larger problem was meth.
Birky and Fleming believe the crack increase is a byproduct of Utah's successes combatting meth. Regulating meth precursors and prosecuting clandestine laboratory operators, as well as better enforcement in Mexico, has boosted the price of meth in Utah to about $1,700 per ounce.
A rock of crack enough for a 15-minute high can be purchased for $10.
Birky also said Utah is uneducated about crack.
"Everyone focused on the meth and the meth and the meth," she said.
Wayne thinks the crack increase is the result of Utah's population increase. He says people from parts of the country with a large crack presence are moving to Utah and brining their habits with them.
Wayne is an example of his theory. He's originally from Memphis, Tenn., and first used crack at a party there in the mid 1980s. He married a Utah woman and moved here for good in 2006. He said he's served various prison and jail terms over the years. About two weeks ago, he arrived at "First Step House," a treatment center in Salt Lake City.
"You can spend $20 on crack, and 20 minutes later you're reaching in your pocket for another $20," he said.
Most law enforcement agencies in Utah combat drugs by targeting the supply side distribution networks or the high-volume dealers. Ross said Salt Lake City has been aggressive in pursuing drug users.
Officers posing as drug dealers have been arresting people trying to buy drugs, Ross said, then prosecutors have been charging them with felonies.
"We have to try to cut off the demand for it," Ross said. "These people thinking they're just going to buy a rock or two are causing us big problems."
Crack cocaine is produced by combining powder cocaine with water and baking soda or some other base. The mixture is cooked over a flame or in a microwave. The result is a hard, round form - called "rocks" or "crumbs."
The concoction is then smoked, producing an intense euphoria that can last about 15 minutes. The side effects are similar to powder cocaine and methamphetamine: construction of the blood vessels, increase in temperature, aggressive and paranoid behavior.