Cocaine Deaths Are On The Rise

By Kelly Burch 12/14/18

“From 2014 through 2016, the number of drug overdose deaths involving cocaine nearly doubled from 5,892 to 11,316,” states a recent report on cocaine-related deaths.

Doctors heading to help someone who overdosed on cocaine

Overdoses caused by cocaine have increasingly been in the news cycle, and a new report released this week shows just how dangerous cocaine abuse has become, with overdose deaths linked to the drug rising almost 18% each year between 2011 and 2016. 

According to the National Center for Health Statistics’ “Drugs Most Frequently Involved in Drug Overdose Deaths: United States, 2011–2016” report, cocaine-related overdoses have been increasing sharply.

“Throughout the study period, cocaine ranked second or third among the top 15 drugs,” the report authors wrote. “From 2014 through 2016, the number of drug overdose deaths involving cocaine nearly doubled from 5,892 to 11,316.”

Of course, that still pales in comparison to the number of people killed by opioids. Deaths involving fentanyl, for example, rose from 1,662 in 2011 to 18,335 in 2016, when 29% of fatal overdoses involved the drug. 

Still, researchers found that cocaine was a significant danger, involved in nearly 18% of overdose deaths in 2016. That could be due in part to the fact that fentanyl is increasingly being found in the cocaine supply. 

“Drug combinations often involved drugs of different drug classes,” study authors wrote. “For example, the opioid fentanyl and the stimulant cocaine were mentioned concomitantly in nearly 4,600 deaths.”

In those cases, authors counted the deaths in both categories. 

The report also showcased how the opioid epidemic has changed over time. In 2011, the prescription opioid oxycodone was present in the most deaths (5,587). By the next year, heroin was the most deadly drug in the country, present in 6,155 overdoses. Heroin remained the most deadly drug for 2013 (8,418 deaths), 2014 (10,882 deaths) and 2015 (13,318 deaths).

In 2016, fentanyl was the most deadly drug in the country, present in 18,335 deaths. This data mirrors the progression that researchers have talked about: The opioid crisis started with prescription drugs, and when those were too expensive, users turned to heroin. When fentanyl entered the drug scene, providing a cheaper and more powerful hit, it was widely used. 

However, cocaine has consistently been causing overdose deaths, either as the second or third most deadly drug each year for the time period researchers measured. 

Meth — another stimulant whose use has been increasing — has gradually become involved in more deaths. In 2011 and 2012 it was the eighth most deadly drug; in 2013 and 2014 it was the seventh. In 2015 it rose to the fifth spot when it was involved in 5,092 overdoses, and in 2016 it was the fourth most deadly drug, involved in 6,762 deaths.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.