Cocaine-Related Overdose Deaths Rise In Maryland

By Kelly Burch 11/16/17

Many of the cocaine-related overdose victims also had opioids in their systems. 

A Baltimore City Fire Department vehicle

In Maryland, 27.7% of people who died of a drug overdose this year had cocaine in their systems, often alongside opioids, showing the re-emergence of cocaine used in deadly combination with opioids. 

According to the Baltimore Sun, there were 325 deaths related to cocaine during the first half to 2017. Of the people who overdosed on cocaine, about 85% also had opioids in their system. 

Dr. Michael Fingerhood, an associate professor of medicine and public health at Johns Hopkins University who treats substance use disorders at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, told The Sun that drug users might combine cocaine and opioids (also known as a speedball) thinking that cocaine—which is a stimulant—will prevent them from overdosing on opioids, which can slow breathing. However, this is not the case, he said. 

Fingerhood and other experts also believe that some people who take cocaine and opioids together may not know what is in the illicit drugs they purchased. 

“In evaluating the second-quarter data from the Maryland Department of Health, it is clear that fentanyl is being mixed in with other illicit drugs, including cocaine,” said Clay Stamp, executive director of Maryland’s Opioid Operational Command Center. “This sets up a very dangerous situation—users cannot be sure what exactly is in the drugs they are taking.”

Maryland is not the only state dealing with this deadly combination of cocaine and fentanyl. Tennessee officials recently found fentanyl in three samples of cocaine. T.J. Jordan, assistant director at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, said the discovery “changes the game.”

In June, the New York City health department warned about the prevalence of cocaine and fentanyl being sold and used together. Last year 37% of overdose deaths in the city involved just cocaine and fentanyl, an increase of 11% over the previous year. 

"All New Yorkers who use drugs, even if only occasionally, should know their drugs may be mixed with fentanyl," Dr. Mary T. Bassett, NYC's health commissioner, said at the time. 

Last year in New Haven, Connecticut, it was reported that drug users bought what they believed to be cocaine, which turned out to be fentanyl.

“What's so unusual about this situation in New Haven is that it looks as if these people were not opioid users or opioid addicts,” Dr. Raymond Isackila, an addiction specialist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center in Ohio, said at the time. 

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
Kelly Burch Contrib.jpg

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