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Retail prices for crack and powder cocaine are compared for 14 U.S. cities between 1986 and 1991 using regression analysis and t-tests. Prices are estimated from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration's System to Retrieve Information from Drug Evidence (STRIDE) database. On average, crack is neither more nor less expensive per pure unit than powder cocaine. Prices are not equal in every city in every year, but crack is equally likely to be more or less expensive, and the differences are not large relative to variation in prices of both forms of cocaine between cities and over time. Crack has been widely believed to be cheaper than powder cocaine, and this "fact" has been used to explain why U.S. drug problems worsened in the 1980s. However, this study concludes that crack is not, in fact, cheaper per pure unit than powder cocaine. Other explanations must be sought for why crack spread so rapidly relative to powder cocaine.

Originally published in: Addiction, v. 92, no. 11, 1997, pp. 1437-1443.

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