Cocaine overdoses can be deadly, and they are now causing more fatalities than ever before. There are multiple reasons why so many people are dying after consuming cocaine, and the only sure way for users to protect themselves is to seek treatment for cocaine addiction—while there is still time.
Cocaine is a stimulant that can send the body’s neurological and physiological systems into overdrive. For many, the initial euphoria caused by cocaine becomes impossible to resist, and as their usage escalates they can quickly slide into addiction.
Compulsive cocaine use has many negative side effects, and one of them is the risk of overdose. A developing addiction is always accompanied by an increase in tolerance, meaning more of a drug must be consumed to achieve the same effects, and when cocaine use runs out of control it is easy to push the body past its limits.
Unfortunately, statistics reveal that overdose deaths from cocaine have reached unprecedented levels. The danger of cocaine overdose is real, and those who are abusing the drug are risking everything, whether they realize it or not.
Signs of Cocaine Overdose
The symptoms of cocaine overdose include:
- Excessive anxiety
- Restlessness, an inability to sit still or stop moving
- Rapid, rambling speech
- Sudden spikes in blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shaking, tremors
- Extreme mental confusion
- Irregular heartbeat
- Psychotic episodes (delusions, hallucinations, feelings of detachment from reality, etc.)
A cocaine overdose produces effects that are highly unpleasant and alarming, and require emergency medical attention. If the symptoms of cocaine overdose are ignored, the person could suffer a seizure, heart attack, or stroke, and their condition could ultimately prove fatal.
Cocaine Overdose Statistics
There is a public perception that cocaine use peaked in the United States in the 1980s, and that perception is largely correct.
In 1985, 3.2 percent of adults age 18 and over were current users of powder or crack cocaine, compared to just .8 percent of adults (1,847,000 people in raw numbers) in 2016. This means the percentage of active cocaine users in the United States is now only one-quarter of what it was in the mid-1980s, and that fits the profile of a drug that has seemingly gone out of style.
But despite the dramatic decrease in the number of users, cocaine use is far deadlier than it has ever been before. In 2016, a shocking 10,619 people died from cocaine overdose, setting a record that was more than double the total of cocaine-related fatalities in 2012. In 1985, less than seven thousand died from any kind of drug overdose, at a time when there were several million people abusing cocaine.
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Why Have Cocaine Fatalities Increased?
One of the primary factors driving the increase in cocaine overdose effects is the popularity of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is available legally as a prescription painkiller and illegally as a recreational, mind-altering substance.
Fentanyl and its synthetic cousins (including carfentanil, a notorious substance that is 100 times more potent than fentanyl) are often mixed with cocaine by users or by cocaine dealers, creating an updated version of the “speedball” (heroin mixed with cocaine) that was popular on the illegal drug scene in the 1980s. In some instances, it appears that fentanyl is being labeled ‘heroin’ by dealers who sell this cheaper yet more lethal drug to unsuspecting customers, who may consume far too much of it as a result of the deception.
People with substance use issues often mix drugs, but doing so is incredibly dangerous. Toxicology tests revealed that approximately 40 percent of cocaine overdose victims in 2016 also had fentanyl or synthetic opioids in their system at the time of their passing, and in these instances it was the combination of drugs that proved fatal.
But the use of cocaine with synthetic opioids only explains some of the increase in cocaine-related overdose deaths. Other factors mentioned by addiction specialists, law enforcement agencies, and public health officials include:
- Expanded availability. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration confirms that increasing supplies of cocaine are now entering the country from South America.
- Lower prices. Expanded supply leads to falling prices, and the street price for a gram of cocaine dropped from $202 in 2015 to just $165 in 2016.
- Greater purity. The cocaine available on the black market today is far purer than what was sold in the 1980s, and that makes it both more addictive and more likely to cause a severe overdose.
- Lack of treatment. There were approximately 867,000 people in the United States with a cocaine use disorder in 2016. But only 18 percent of those who have drug use disorders receive treatment for their conditions annually, and with cocaine being more lethal than ever this puts hundreds of thousands of people at unnecessary risk.
Treatment Can Prevent Overdose
Greater public awareness of the dangers of drug mixing, and of the rise in cocaine-related fatalities caused by the increased potency of the modern version of the drug, will be required before overdose statistics can be expected to improve.
But in the meantime, treatment programs for cocaine addiction offer the best hope for people who are risking their lives by abusing this substance.
Overdose is a sign of drug use that has spiraled out of control, and anyone who survives a cocaine overdose should be evaluated for a substance use disorder right away. Drug rehab programs can help people with cocaine use disorders turn their lives around, and if they don’t seek treatment after an initial overdose they may not get a second chance it they overdose again.