"Crack" is the street name given to cocaine that has been processed from cocaine hydrochloride to a free base for smoking. Rather than requiring the more volatile method of processing cocaine using ether, crack cocaine is processed with ammonia or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and water and heated to remove the hydrochloride, thus producing a form of cocaine that can be smoked. The term "crack" refers to the crackling sound heard when the mixture is smoked (heated), presumably from the sodium bicarbonate.
"Crack" is a new, more addictive and potent form of crystalline cocaine which is usually smoked. The crack high reinforces feelings of power and aggression rather than the blissful lassitude of heroin. It can cause paranoid psychosis, hallucinations and chronic anxiety and in rare cases can provoke heart attacks or strokes.
Crack was the drug of choice of blacks in the 1980s and is popular with women. It is cheaper than other forms of cocaine (as little as $5, which also limits dealers profits), does not require syringes or other drug paraphernalia and and the euphoria is intense and quickly reached. The "high" lasts only 30 minutes followed by a deep and frightening depression which leads to addiction. This high-low cycle of an hour or less leaves no time to attend to small children. A mother's use of crack cocaine during pregnancy cuts off the blood supply to the baby, it causes serious damage: strokes, seizures, paralysis, prematurity, deformed hearts and lungs, abnormal genital and intestinal organs and permanent brain damage. The crack babies have 10-15 times the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Crack is distributed by young, wild, heavily armed gangs. They arrogantly intimidate whole communities and make war on each other to control the lucrative business. Crack dealing involves more adolescents than the heroin trade ever did, offering them money enough to have clothes, jewellery, cars, guns and power.
Crack has forced criminal justice to spend billions for police, prosecutors, courts, judges and penal institutions. California has 81,000 people locked up; from 1983 to 1989 it has built 21,000 new prison beds and plans 16,000 more. The total cost is $3.2 billion. In the same period, New York state has spent $900,000 to build 17,780 cells. President Bush pledged $1 billion to build 24,000 federal prison cells, largely for drug violators. More than half the males arrested in nine major American cities in 1988 tested positive for cocaine.
Hospitals and clinics are being overwhelmed by addicts, their children and casualties of crack wars. Each crack baby costs about $90,000 causing the USA some $2.5 billion. The annual cost of treating gunshot wounds most of which are drug related is $1 billion, 85% of which is at US tax-payer expense. Health officials blame crack for a new outbreak of syphilis in cities due to prostitution and casual sex in "crack houses". Syphilis causes skin lesions and so facilitates the spread of AIDS.
At the same time vigilantism has begun to increase as citizens demand control of crack related crime: some crack houses have been burned by angered residents.