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DEA Says Traffickers Finding Cocaine in Short Supply

July 17, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Drug traffickers are finding cocaine in short supply nearly everywhere in the United States, a top U.S. drug official said Tuesday.

Ronald Caffrey told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the shortage was the ″first positive development in domestic wholesale cocaine availability and prices since the onset of the cocaine epidemic.″

Caffrey, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s deputy assistant administrator for operations, said cocaine prices had reached their highest level since mid-1985 and that purity levels had dropped.

The combination of high prices and low purity generally indicates a shortage in the drug, he said.

Some of the shortages, Caffrey said, may be due to stockpiling by cocaine traffickers and price gouging by those playing on fears of a shortage.

He said law enforcement efforts at home and in Latin America have had a major impact on the drug’s availability, but acknowledged that it could be temporary.

One way the DEA knew shortages existed was because of its undercover agents’ dealings with drug traffickers.

″Normally, when we do our undercover work, we go out and we buy drugs at certain prices that are quoted to us,″ Caffrey said. ″When the market starts to dry up a little bit, suddenly people are asking us to sell them drugs, and then sting operations occur.″

Caffrey said wholesale price increased in Los Angeles, New York City, Houston, Chicago and Miami between December and June. In New York, for example, prices ranged from $14,000 to $20,000 per kilo in December but increased to $21,000 to $35,000 per kilo by June.

However, Caffrey said prices remain far below the $55,000 to $65,000 price per kilo in 1982.

At the same time, the level of cocaine purity has dropped steadily since 1988, he said.

The agency found that purity at the kilo level decreased from 90 percent two years ago to 74 percent in June. At the gram, or street-buy level, purity dropped from 70 percent two years ago to 55 percent last month, the DEA said.

Asked outside the hearing about the results of an unreleased cocaine price and purity survey of all 19 DEA field offices, Caffrey said the trend toward increased prices and decreased purity of wholesale quantities of cocaine was ″almost nationwide.″

″Florida is a little bit different in the sense that, yeah, prices have gone up since last year at this time, but I would say that it is still fairly stable,″ he said.

That, he said, ″would indicate to us that at least in Florida, there is a fair amount of wholesale cocaine available.″

Until Tuesday, the DEA had been unwilling to say there was a shortage in wholesale level cocaine in most of the United States despite information on price and purity changes. National drug policy director William J. Bennett had hailed those changes as indications of a shortage.

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