Cocaine-Related Deaths Skyrocket

By Kelly Burch 05/07/19

In 2017, one-third of drug overdose deaths involved cocaine, or psychostimulants like MDMA.

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The number of overdose deaths involving cocaine has risen rapidly in recent years, increasing 52.4% between 2015 and 2016. 

That’s according to recently-released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which tracked deaths involving cocaine and psychostimulants. The increase can be largely blamed on the presence of synthetic opioids in the drug supply, the CDC says, although that does not fully explain the increase. 

“Death rates involving cocaine and psychostimulants, with and without opioids, have increased. Synthetic opioids appear to be the primary driver of cocaine-involved death rate increases, and recent data point to increasing synthetic opioid involvement in psychostimulant-involved deaths,” the authors wrote. 

In 2017, one-third of drug overdose deaths involved cocaine, or psychostimulants like MDMA. Although most overdose prevention and intervention programs focus on opioids, this research shows that a more widespread effort is needed, according to the report. 

“The rise in deaths involving cocaine and psychostimulants and the continuing evolution of the drug landscape indicate a need for a rapid, multifaceted, and broad approach that includes more timely and comprehensive surveillance efforts to inform tailored and effective prevention and response strategies,” the authors wrote. 

They went on, “Continued collaborations among public health, public safety, and community partners are critical to understanding the local illicit drug supply and reducing risk as well as linking persons to medication-assisted treatment and risk-reduction services.”

According to NBC News, Hans Breiter, a psychiatry professor at Northwestern University, said that despite the fact that dangerous synthetic opioids are being found more commonly in the cocaine supply, many people still think cocaine is a safer drug to use. 

“There’s been a lot of bad press about other drugs,” Brieter said, adding that today’s young people haven’t seen firsthand the dangers of cocaine like people saw during the 1970s, so they are more likely to believe it is safe. 

“Absolutely, there is a generational piece to this,” Breiter said. 

Daniel Raymond, deputy director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, said that drugs come in and out of style, and cocaine is becoming a popular choice on the party scene once again. 

“Right now we’re seeing an uptick in cocaine use, and we’re hitting that point in the cycle where we’re starting to see more fatal overdoses,” he said. 

Officials have also warned that more people are using cocaine in conjunction with heroin, known as a speedball, Breiter said. 

“People will use heroin to blunt the severity of coming down from the high of cocaine. It can be quite severe.”

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