The problem, for Jessica and other cocaine users across North America, is that quality has become dangerously unpredictable. We spoke to 12 people across the continent—including cartel and wholesaler sources, street users, recent college grads, and wealthy working professionals who have a love/hate relationship with the drug. (Because cocaine is illegal, they spoke on the condition of anonymity.) Although experiences with drugs are subjective, most of the users we spoke to said that purity has taken a nosedive and that gross additives and cutting agents are pervasive. At the same time, powder cocaine is more popular than ever. In some places, prices have gone up, especially post-pandemic, and reliable dealers are increasingly harder to come by or more discerning about their clientele. Some are even offering different price tiers for what they claim is better-quality cocaine.
“I felt like I was going to die. Then I decided I was never going to do this again.”
A Sinaloa Cartel comandante told VICE News the highest-purity cocaine is called “La Lavada” because it’s been “washed” of impurities. The latest innovation, he said, is adding artificial flavors so that the drip tastes like grape, cherry, peach, or other fruits.
“I'd rather pay more for the highest end. The question is, do they have it?”
Fentanyl does get mixed with cocaine, but it’s still a bit unclear where exactly in the supply chain it’s happening and how widespread so-called “fentanyl-laced cocaine” really is. Low levels of fentanyl in cocaine aren’t necessarily deadly and could even be desirable for certain consumers—but only if they’re expecting it and they have a high tolerance.
Why would anyone add a volatile and potent downer like fentanyl to a substance that customers use to party until sunrise and beyond?