DRUG ENFORCEMENT

In D.C., Price of Cocaine Soars as Supply Declines

John Walters of the White House said increased drug enforcement efforts should eventually curtail crime.
John Walters of the White House said increased drug enforcement efforts should eventually curtail crime. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)

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By Allison Klein and Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, November 9, 2007

The price of cocaine has increased sharply in the District and other U.S. cities because stricter enforcement has curtailed supplies on the street, federal drug officials said yesterday.

Nationally, the price of cocaine shot up 44 percent from January to September, and the purity dropped 15 percent, according to a report released yesterday by the White House drug policy office and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

John Walters, director of the drug policy office, joined DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy at a news conference yesterday in Bogota, Colombia, to announce the results of an analysis of prices and supplies based on intelligence gathering and market trends. Walters said that crackdowns in Mexico, Colombia and the United States are having an effect.

D.C. police investigators said that they had no statistical evidence to back the DEA's claim but that dealers appear to be fighting over a dwindling product. They said that could be contributing to a recent rise in other crimes, such as homicides and robberies. When supplies are scarce, some dealers turn to other crimes to make money, said D.C. police Inspector Brian Bray, head of the narcotics branch.

"When there's the same amount of demand and less supply, people are going to try to get what's out there," Bray said. "That's when you see violence on the street level. A lot of these beefs are drug-related. A lot of homicides are drug dealers fighting over turf and supply."

The District has had 165 homicides this year, a 12 percent increase compared with the same period last year. Because many cases are unsolved, authorities can't say how many are drug-related.

Cocaine prices have increased in the District and 36 other U.S. cities, including New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston and Los Angeles, according to the DEA. In September, a gram of pure cocaine was selling for about $137 nationwide, up from about $96 in January, the DEA said. The agency computes prices based on reports from undercover officers, informants and other sources. A rise in prices suggests a drop in supply, Walters and DEA officials said.

Walters made similar pronouncements in 2005 but drew criticism when prices flattened. Officials said this year's data are significant because the price of a pure gram had not varied more than a few dollars since 2005.

"It's unprecedented," Walters said in an interview last week before setting off for South America. "This is not only the deepest shortage but it's the longest we've ever seen."

The DEA has also recorded an increase in the price of methamphetamine, from $141 in January to $245 in September.

Federal officials declined yesterday to provide prices for a gram of cocaine in the District.

The price variations are generally seen in large purchases more than at the street level, officials said. The smaller-level dealers who often sell $10 or $20 rocks of crack cocaine absorb losses to keep customers happy or "step on" the drug, adding substances to dilute the product, officials said.


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