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Cocaine Use and Overdoses Deaths on the Rise in the U.S


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Cocaine use and overdose from cocaine have been on the rise in the United States for the past several years. In fact, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), overdose rates from cocaine increased by 122% from 2011 to 2016. And while many practitioners have their eye on the opioid epidemic, it’s crucial to spread awareness and education about the upsurge in cocaine use in hopes of slowing this trend.

Cocaine is an illicit drug and highly addictive stimulant. This drug can be consumed orally, nasally, injected, or smoked. Once consumed, there is an immediate build-up of dopamine in the brain that creates a short-term euphoric high as well as both short- and long-term negative side effects. 

This illicit drug is derived from the leaves of two coca species and has been used since ancient times by Andean civilizations like the Incas and Wari cultures. The coca leaves are consumed by either chewing on them, in a tea, or in a type of sachet which users place against the inside of their cheeks. These indigenous cultures use it for warding off cold, hunger, and altitude sickness. The use of coca leaves in this manner is legal in some countries such as Peru and Bolivia. 

In the United States and many other countries, the use of cocaine is illegal. However, cocaine remains the second most used drug in the nation after marijuana. And, according to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the U.S. is the world’s largest consumer of this cocaine. 

How Cocaine Impacts the Body and Mind

Cocaine impacts the body and mind quickly. Immediate mental effects include feelings of euphoria or happiness, loss of contact with reality, sexual arousal, and agitation. When it comes to the body’s responses, these can include increased heart rate, dilated pupils, and sweating to name a few. These effects can be seen within minutes of use and generally last from about 15 minutes to an hour and a half. 

There are many dangers with cocaine use. One is addiction, which can occur rather quickly. Addiction occurs because of the action the drug has on the brain’s reward system. Interfering with both dopamine and serotonin processes, users need more and more cocaine to get that same initial feeling of euphoria or ‘high’. After some time of use, cocaine is needed for the users just to be able to function or feel ‘okay’. 

When someone consumes this stimulant drug the risk of serious health issues including death increases. Cocaine use increases the risk of the following:

  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Cardiac arrhythmia
  • Lung damage (from smoking)
  • Sudden cardiac death

And while these are all serious issues resulting from cocaine use, today, cocaine is even more deadly. This is because more and more cocaine is being laced with fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid used to treat pain. It is similar to morphine but about 50 to 100 times more powerful. 

Fentanyl has been linked to many overdose deaths. Many people who are familiar with fentanyl and overdose think of overdose from heroin or another opioid. However, data is showing that cocaine laced with fentanyl is one of the reasons for the increase in overdose deaths from cocaine. 

This is one of the reasons it’s vital to spread awareness about cocaine use and overdose. With the upsurge in cocaine use and the deadly practice of lacing it with fentanyl, the overdose rates from cocaine are currently predicted to climb. 

Cocaine Use Today Is More Deadly Than Ever Before

The CDC reports that between 2011 and 2016 out of the more than 11,000 cocaine-related overdose deaths, two out of every five involved fentanyl. In another report from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), it was stated that cocaine that contains fentanyl is also on the rise and targeted to specific groups of users. 

These users are not those who have used or regularly use any opioids such as fentanyl. This makes them even more susceptible to adverse impacts, such as overdose, from this laced drug. 

A study in the Journal of Urban Health investigated the connection between fentanyl-laced cocaine and overdose deaths. The authors of the study stated the following, 

“While the presence of fentanyl in heroin confers additional risk to people using opioids, the presence of fentanyl in cocaine poses a dramatically heightened risk of overdose among individuals who use only cocaine and lack opioid tolerance.”

The authors of the study went on to advise the best way to help prevent the continued rise of death from cocaine with fentanyl is to target and educate those who use cocaine but don’t know the risks of opioids. 

The DEA report also states that one of the reasons for the increased use of cocaine in the U.S. is due to increased production, availability, and decreased prices of cocaine. The report reveals that Columbia has significantly increased their cocaine production. 

The report states, “Record levels of coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia, the primary source for cocaine seized and tested in the United States, has widened the cocaine market, leading to increased domestic abuse,” the report continues, “Increased availability levels and concurrent lowered domestic prices will likely propel this trend through the near-term.”

It is vital for anyone who is involved in addiction treatment as well as those individuals who know people who consume cocaine to help to spread awareness about this deadly trend. In order to do this, it’s also important to be aware of the demographics of those groups that are showing an increase in cocaine use. 

A report in Drug and Alcohol Dependence in November 2017 found the following groups to have increased rates of cocaine use:

  • Males and females between 19 and 25 years of age
  • Women
  • Individuals over the age of 50

Many of these individuals in the first group are college students who are looking to ‘party’ or ‘just have some fun’. However, what many don’t realize is that the ‘fun’ can turn deadly in an instant.  Older adults may have experimented with cocaine in the past and are completely unaware that cocaine on the streets today is not only more potent but also laced with fentanyl. They may also be long term users also unaware of the dangers of today’s cocaine consumption.

Getting this information out is of paramount importance. And, at an even earlier age than those in college. In another report in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, it was found that there was a rise in cocaine use amongst high school students. The report from February 2018 found that there was an increase between 2009 and 2015 in high schoolers who tried cocaine from 2.8% to 5.2% respectively. 

But as you can see from the information above, educating not only youth but older adults is vital as well. According to the CDC, overdose deaths were highest for those individuals between the ages of 45 and 54. 

Signs of Cocaine Addiction and Use

As with any drug or mental health issue, it can impact any person regardless of age, gender, race, education, or socio-economic level. In order to help someone with a cocaine addiction, you must first know what the signs of cocaine use and addiction are. 

  • Being awake for longer than normal periods of time
  • Having dilated pupils
  • Eating less than normal
  • Sniffling or having a runny nose
  • Being overly excited
  • Being overly confident
  • Being paranoid
  • Showing signs of paranoia
  • Exhibiting signs of mood issues such as depression, irritability, etc. 
  • Experiencing legal, family, work, or school problems

When larger amounts of cocaine are consumed some of the side effects can be not only more obvious but also more dangerous. Some of these are:

  • Rapid heart rate and high blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Chills
  • Confusion
  • Excessive sweating

As mentioned, cocaine is a highly addictive and deadly illicit drug. Addiction to cocaine can set in quickly and stopping without help can be difficult. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction to cocaine, there is help. Futures Recovery Healthcare compassionately treats addictions to cocaine as well as alcohol and other substances using evidence-based programs

Spreading awareness about the new dangers of cocaine laced with fentanyl is vital to help stop another drug crisis. As fentanyl continues to claim the lives of so many it’s essential that those in the community help to spread the word about the real dangers of cocaine use today. 

If you or someone you love wants help for a drug problem or alcohol problem contact Futures today. Our team of professionals are devoted to each person who comes to us for help. This dedication extends beyond just clinical treatment. Futures’ Alumni community is vibrant and supports those who have completed clinical treatment for years to come. 

Contact us online or call 866-804-2098.


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