Mixing Drugs and Hot Weather Can Cause a Storm

By Dirk Hanson 06/13/11

A vacation reminder: Accidental cocaine deaths increase on days over 75 degrees.

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The forecast is for trouble if you coke up on hot days.
Photo via thinkstockphotos

As summer heats up, cocaine users and abusers might wish to take note of well-established evidence about the connection between high ambient air temperatures and accidental overdoses. A study published in the journal Addiction used mortality data from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York City from 1990 to 2006 to determine the frequency of cocaine-related overdoses. The researchers cross-referenced the mortality data with temperature records from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). 

The scientists concluded that “accidental overdose deaths that were wholly or partly attributable to cocaine use rose significantly” whenever the weekly outdoor air temperature was above 75 degree F. The researchers said they did not find a corresponding rise in other types of drug overdoses during days over 75 degrees, although other research has shown that overdoses on Ecstasy appear to be temperature-sensitive as well.

What is the mechanism connecting temperature to cocaine overdose? It works like this: Cocaine raises core body temperature. This mild hyperthermia normally doesn’t matter much--unless cocaine users stay out for a day of partying in the hot summer sun, or a night dancing in a steamy warehouse. The combination means cocaine users are running the risk of overdosing on smaller amounts of the drug than usual. Specifically, the numbers suggest an additional two cocaine deaths per week, for every two degrees increase in average temperature over 75 in New York City. That's not huge, but it's something to bear in mind. Heat stroke can be bad enough; don't double down by adding drugs if the temps are soaring.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]