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Cocaine-Related Overdose Deaths Have a Dangerous National Spike

Cocaine is making a comeback and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fatal overdose deaths linked to the drug have surged. Derived from the coca plant, use of the addictive stimulant had seen a steady decrease in the past decade. The crisis of opioid addiction though is fueling an increase in cocaine demand, which comes with deadly consequences.

Cocaine Related Overdose Deaths on the Rise

In 2014 cocaine was responsible for the country’s highest number of overdose deaths. Only opioids, prescription painkillers and heroin caused more fatalities.

Data compiled by the National Institute of Health shows a steady increase in mortality rates due to cocaine use since 2012.

In 2015 alone, nearly 7,000 people died. Scientists attribute the rise in fatal overdoses to poly-drug abuse or using more than one substance at a time, most especially opioids.

What is the Cocaine Poly-drug Use Statistics from the CDC?

U.S. News and World Report used CDC information to breakdown the numbers:

  • 6,748 cocaine overdose deaths were logged in 2015
  • Of that number, 2,565 of the victims had heroin as in their system, a contributing factor to the overdoses
  • 1,077 had prescription painkillers in their system
  • More than 1,500 were found to have also used fentanyl, an extremely potent opioid used to manage chronic pain in cancer patients
  • In total, 63 percent of the cocaine-related overdose deaths in 2015 involved opioids

“All drug deaths are, if anything, underestimates,” Art Hughes tells U.S. News and World Report. A statistician for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Hughes says there’s not a strict standard for reporting drug deaths.

Some counties will mark a death certificate as simply a “drug overdose” and not list the substance that caused the fatality. In other words, there are likely more cocaine-related overdoses than healthcare officials and policymakers are aware of.

Why is Cocaine Overdoses on the Rise?

A 2016 summary (PDF) by the Drug Enforcement Administration states that the availability of cocaine has risen since 2014. And cultivation of the coca plant in Colombia, the region of South America that accounts for most of the cocaine in the U.S., is on the rise.

Experts aren’t sure whether people are mixing the drugs on purpose. It’s common to purchase drugs cut with chemicals the end-user is not aware of.

Combining cocaine and heroin, which sometimes goes by the name “speedballing,” is not new. However, dealers often lace heroin with other drugs, such as fentanyl, a powerful opiate used to manage pain in patients with terminal cancer.

Police in Buffalo, New York seized nearly 53 pounds of cocaine and 17 pounds of fentanyl in March 2015. As little as two grams of fentanyl, equal to a few grains of salt, has the potential to be lethal. Fentanyl is undetectable when combined with opiates or cocaine, leaving those battling addiction at great risk for overdose and death.

The obvious fix is avoiding heroin, prescription painkillers and cocaine altogether. Though, as anyone who’s struggled with addiction understands, that’s easier said than done.

Regular use of either drug changes the brain’s chemistry and makes stopping cold-turkey painful and nearly impossible. Addiction is a treatable disease, but most of those in desperate straights are unaware of treatment options.

Healthcare officials, physicians and their patients battling addiction are watching closely to see how the new Trump Administration will deal with substance abuse issues and the public health crisis that opioids and cocaine addiction are causing.


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