Powder cocaine and crack use in the United States: An examination of risk for arrest and socioeconomic disparities in use

Joseph J. Palamar, Shelby Davies, Danielle C. Ompad, Charles M. Cleland, Michael Weitzman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: In light of the current sentencing disparity (18:1) between crack and powder cocaine possession in the United States, we examined socioeconomic correlates of use of each, and relations between use and arrest, to determine who may be at highest risk for arrest and imprisonment. Methods: We conducted secondary data analyses on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2009-2012. Data were analyzed for adults age ≥18 to determine associations between use and arrest. Socioeconomic correlates of lifetime and annual use of powder cocaine and of crack were delineated using multivariable logistic regression and correlates of frequency of recent use were examined using generalized negative binomial regression. Results: Crack users were at higher risk than powder cocaine users for reporting a lifetime arrest or multiple recent arrests. Racial minorities were at low risk for powder cocaine use and Hispanics were at low risk for crack use. Blacks were at increased risk for lifetime and recent crack use, but not when controlling for other socioeconomic variables. However, blacks who did use either powder cocaine or crack tended to use at higher frequencies. Higher education and higher family income were negatively associated with crack use although these factors were sometimes risk factors for powder cocaine use. Conclusions: Crack users are at higher risk of arrest and tend to be of lower socioeconomic status compared to powder cocaine users. These findings can inform US Congress as they review bills (e.g., The Smarter Sentencing Act), which would help eliminate cocaine-related sentencing disparities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)108-116
Number of pages9
JournalDrug and alcohol dependence
StatePublished - Apr 1 2015


  • Arrest
  • Cocaine
  • Crack
  • Disparities
  • Socioeconomic status

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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