ALEX COHEN, host:
The U.S. is making big gains in the war on drugs, at least when it comes to cocaine. That's what federal officials are claiming. Apparently, they're doing so well at stopping shipments of coke that there are now shortages of the drug in nearly 40 American cities. That's reflected in the price of cocaine which has gone way up.
CHADWICK: We're joined now by NPR's John Burnett who's been investigating these claims. John, welcome back to the show. You've got a big piece on tonight on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED delving into this. But give us a preview. Are the federal officials right to claim victory here?
JOHN BURNETT: Well, yes and no, Alex. I mean, clearly, their law enforcement efforts have squeezed some of the supply of cocaine. They say the new Mexican president, Felipe Calderon, has cracked down on the drug lords, that the Coastguard and U.S. Customs have made some big busts at sea, and there were some big hauls along the Southwest U.S. border. But we're talking about the United States as the largest cocaine market in the world, and it's very difficult to disrupt it nationwide.
CHADWICK: It is. So where do they get this information that says that, in fact, they are disrupting it?
BURNETT: The drugs are - John Walters bases his information on the Drug Enforcement Administration, which has data on the price and purity of cocaine which they get from undercover purchases, in wiretaps and informants and then reports from local police.
CHADWICK: Well, you've been investigating these claims. What do you find?
BURNETT: Well, we called the narcotics commanders in all of the 37 cities that the drugs are - said there's a cocaine shortage and asked them: Is there a cocaine shortage in your city? And the picture we came back with is really quite a bit more complex than what we heard. First of all, here is John Walters, the drug czar.
Mr. JOHN WALTERS (Director, National Drug Control Policy): These seizures are having a profound effect on availability of drugs in the United States.
BURNETT: And now, here's Commander Cheryl Doubt of the Pittsburgh Police Department, narcotics unit.
Commander CHERYL DOUBT (Narcotics Units, Pittsburgh Police Department): I spoke to my detectives who are out there on the streets making busts, and we all kind of agreed that if there is a shortage here in Pittsburgh, we were not aware of it and don't find that necessarily to be true.
BURNETT: So here are the results we came up with, Alex. In some cities like Atlanta and L.A., police officials said yes, the scarcity is real. In others like Boston and Detroit, they said it hasn't translated into any change on the street, that crack is still plentiful and inexpensive, 10 to $20 a rock, even though it may be less potent. In other cities like Philadelphia and Houston, they said that the price spikes were transitory. They happened in the summer. But now they've rebounded and cocaine is cheap and plentiful again.
Then in - still, other cities like Minneapolis and Phoenix, they said there is no shortage of cocaine ever at any time. So what we came away with is that federal counter drug officials can claim success in squeezing some of the cocaine shipments. But to say that nationwide, cocaine has risen in price 44 percent, to say that there's less of it on the street, and to say that the scarcity is unprecedented, we just did not find that to be the case.
BURNETT: And the drug czar discounted our findings.
CHADWICK: Well, what did he say?
BURNETT: I asked him at a press conference a few weeks ago in Washington - and while he said they're claiming not to have won the drug war, that they were hurting the drug traffickers. And he hopes the results prove lasting, but he trusts his DEA data, not a bunch of local cops that National Public Radio talked to.
CHADWICK: NPR's John Burnett. His full story on the cocaine shortage airs this afternoon on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. John, thank you.
BURNETT: It's good to be here, Alex.
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