Lamar Odom is in a coma at a hospital after he was found foaming from the mouth in a legal Nevada brothel and was rushed to the hospital Tuesday. As details have emerged surrounding Odom's struggles, it has been discovered that the two-time NBA champion had been taking at least two controlled substances and an herbal sexual stimulant before he was found unresponsive. But the exact identity of one of those illegal drugs has been somewhat unclear in media reports. Many have wondered whether Odom was using crack or cocaine.
Reports indicate Odom had fluid in his lungs that could have been caused by crack cocaine use, and he has been tied to the substance in the past. He had cocaine in his bloodstream, however because the two drugs have similar chemical forms it has been difficult to say for certain if Odom was using crack cocaine. There are, of course, some important differences between crack and powder cocaine, aside from chemical makeup. Those include some of the physical particulars of the drugs, the way that laws are structured around their use and the communities they impact most. The drugs are also used differently, which can affect the body, including the lungs, differently.
What do they look like? It's pretty common knowledge that the two drugs come in two distinct forms, even though they are both derived from the coca plant. Crack, or crack cocaine, is a solid drug. Regular cocaine is found in a powder form. Crack is derived from mixing cocaine with baking soda, which makes it solid. That also means it isn't as pure.
Are crack and cocaine used differently? While the two drugs are molecularly similar, crack is smoked while cocaine is generally snorted through the nose. Cocaine can be used in several other ways, including eating it, injecting it or smoking it.
Does that usage change the impact on the body? Yes. Crack cocaine, because it is made in a different way than simple cocaine, is absorbed into the body much quicker. While their effects are generally understood as being the same, smoking vs. snorting are not the same experience. Smoking and injecting drugs leads to a high that arrives much quicker than snorting, which involves absorbing the drug through mucus membranes.
Because the drug hits faster, it also wears off much quicker if smoked. Therefore, smoking crack is more self-reinforcing: Users want the drug quicker and often return to it quickly. Because smoking also introduces toxins into the lungs, there are detrimental effects there that can harm those organs -- like reports have indicated when it comes to Odom.
Legally, what's the difference between crack and cocaine? The two drugs are vastly different in terms of the way they are regulated in the United States. Cocaine is classified as a Schedule 2 drug in the U.S., a label that means the United States government has determined that the drug has accepted medical uses, even if it has an increased rate of dependency from lower scheduled drugs. Crack cocaine, however, is a Schedule 1 drug, which means it has no medical value. Marijuana, LSD and heroin are also Schedule 1 drugs.
What communities do they impact? In spite of the two drugs being so close on a molecular level, the prison sentencing generally associated with crack and cocaine are quite different. There is an 18:1 sentencing disparity between the two, which means that the sentences for possession one gram of crack will be the same as possessing 18 grams of cocaine.
That is a status quo that has been heavily criticized. Crack tends to be used by people who are poor, less educated and African-American. Cocaine is used by a broader population and arrests for possession of the drug simply aren't as common. Mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws signed into law by President Richard Nixon have sent a disproportionate number of black drug users to jail, with tougher sentences because they possessed crack instead of cocaine. Previously, the sentencing disparity was 100-to-1 for crack cocaine versus powder cocaine.