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Drug-related deaths increased across all categories of illicit substances from 2016 to 2017, according to the Center For Disease Control CDC. One of the largest overall increases in overdose fatalities might come as a surprise to many – cocaine.
- Though studies showed a short decline in cocaine use in the mid-2000s, it’s now on the rise.
NIDA found that as recently as 2014, almost 1 million adults in the U.S. were physically dependent on cocaine and some health care professionals are worried that number has grown significantly.
Experts are trying to call attention to the fact that cocaine-related deaths – nearly 15,000 in 2017 alone – are closing in on overdoses related to heroin and other opioids. In 2016 there were an estimated 10,619 cocaine-related deaths, a dramatic 37% increase from 2016 to 2017.
“We have multiple drug problems in the U.S.,”Keith Humphreys, a professor at Stanford School of Medicine, told the New York Times. “We need to focus on more than one drug at a time.”
Cocaine-Related Overdoses 2002- 2017
Cocaine Laced With Fentanyl: A Deadly Mix
According to the CDC, there were an estimated 14,556 cocaine-related, overdose deaths in 2017. Several studies, including one published in 2017 by the American Journal of Public Health, find that the opioid epidemic is driving up the number of cocaine-related overdose deaths.
There have also been an increasing number of reports of cocaine spiked with fentanyl, a deadly synthetic-opioids that’s 50 times stronger than heroin. In an overdose situation, this complicates the job of first responders trying to revive a patient who’s been reported as overdosing on just cocaine. Because a majority of states fail to track or report multiple-drug fatalities, it’s unclear just how prevalent fentanyl-spiked cocaine is, though there is serious cause for concern.
“There’s more cocaine and there’s more fentanyl,” Dr. Traci Green, an epidemiologist at Boston Medical Center, told MotherJones, “so there’s going to be more cocaine-fentanyl (overdoses).”
This graph illustrates the number of deaths resulting from cocaine mixed with fentanyl between 2002 to 2016.
Cocaine Overdose Signs
With cocaine overdoses spiking, it’s important to know the signs of an overdose. According to WebMD, these can include some of the following symptoms:
- Chest pain, increased heart rate and dangerously high blood pressure
- Nausea or vomiting
- Difficulty breathing
- Anxiety, panic or paranoia
- Hallucination or delirium
Not only is a cocaine overdose painful, it can be the precursor to a fatal stroke, heart attack or seizure. Anyone in this condition needs immediate medical assistance.
Cocaine’s Effects on the Body
Cocaine, which comes in white powder or rock form, is most often snorted, smoked or injected. Once ingested, cocaine floods the brain with dopamine, a neurochemical related with feelings of euphoria. Users feel a heightened sense of awareness and pleasure combined with extra energy that’s extremely addictive, both physically and psychologically.
Long-term exposure to cocaine can actually change the brain’s structure, making it difficult for a person trying to recover from addiction to experience a normal amount of pleasure or satisfaction from activities or relationships they once cherished, according to NIDA.
These effects, along with the fast tolerance users develop, are some of the reason the stimulant is so addictive. Using more and more of it to experience a euphoric high is often what leads to a cocaine overdose. There are, however, other factors related to the increase in coke-related fatalities.
A Brief Cocaine History: Then and Now
When crack-cocaine swept across the country in the mid to late ’80s, the U.S. government responded with force. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) went to war with cartels in countries like Colombia, Venezuela and Mexico. At home, harsh mandatory minimum prison sentences were implemented, sending many coke users and dealers away for years, sometimes for the rest of their lives.
A decade later, in the late ’90s, a new drug abuse problem emerged. People were getting addicted to prescription opioid painkillers, such as Oxycontin, hydrocodone and Percocet. It was believed that cocaine consumption was declining and, as a result, the drug received considerably less attention from the media and even law enforcement.
Now, however, the U.S. and Europe are dealing with a massive new influx of cocaine from countries like Colombia all over again. One of the reasons for this, as ABC News reports, is that when the Colombian government started paying ranchers not to cultivate cocoa – the plant that cocaine is developed from – more farmers began to grow the plant in an effort to qualify for the federal subsidy.
(image courtesy of NIH)