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Cocaine is a powerful stimulant that is often used recreationally for its pleasurable effects. This illicit drug has some clinical applications, but it also provides an intense high when it’s snorted, smoked or injected. In addition, cocaine is a highly addictive substance that activates certain reward centers in the brain. This makes it more likely that people will continue to use it, even when doing so leads to serious consequences. Taking too much can lead to a cocaine overdose, which can cause severe health problems or even death.
The number of overdoses involving cocaine has increased in recent years, accounting for nearly 14,000 deaths in 2017. Many of these deaths included the use of cocaine in combination with other illicit substances. A person can overdose on cocaine without any other drug involvement, but mixing it with other prescription or illegal drugs increases the risk.
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Signs of Cocaine Overdose
A cocaine overdose creates a variety of negative physical and mental health complications. Heart-related complications are among the most common signs of a cocaine overdose. This includes everything from mild palpitations to a stroke or heart attack. People who have existing heart conditions or a family history of heart problems may be especially at risk. A cocaine overdose can also result in respiratory failure or seizures. These three types of complications account for the majority of deaths related to cocaine overdose.
Other cocaine overdose symptoms include:
- High blood pressure
- Elevated heart rate
- Elevated body temperature
- Anxiety, agitation or irritability
- Hallucinations or delusions
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
Cocaine Overdose Amount
The amount of cocaine required to overdose is unclear. In some instances, people have overdosed on a few hundred milligrams of cocaine. Others have taken several grams of cocaine at once without adverse effects. Additionally, tolerance changes over time. With most drugs, regular use tends to make people less sensitive to the drug over time. With cocaine, it’s actually possible to become more sensitive to the effects of the drug over time, which increases the risk of overdose.
Cocaine use is risky for other reasons as well. It’s almost impossible for someone to gauge the purity of the drug they are taking. Legal prescription drugs are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, which ensures that consumers know exactly what and how much they are taking. As an illicit and unregulated drug, however, cocaine is often mixed with substances like cornstarch or talcum powder. This results in varying purity levels and increases the risk of a cocaine overdose.
Cocaine use can harm the cardiovascular system, and the drug’s effects increase when combined with other stimulants, such as ecstasy. Recent reports reveal increasing occurrences of mixing cocaine with synthetic opioids like fentanyl. The mixture of cocaine and opioids is incredibly dangerous and accounts for the majority of cocaine-related overdose deaths.
The mixture of a stimulant and opioid is sometimes referred to as a “speedball.” The mixture produces conflicting effects: The stimulant creates an energetic high, and the opioid counteracts it with sedating or pain-relieving effects. This also occurs when mixing cocaine and alcohol or other substances that have sedating or depressant qualities. Research suggests that people who take cocaine in combination with alcohol are 20 times more likely to die from an overdose.
Regardless of which drugs are used, overdose risks increase because the person may take more of one or both drugs to get the desired effects.
Cocaine Overdose Effects
Cocaine overdose effects include heart disease, stroke, heart attack, and even death. An overdose can also worsen pre-existing mental health conditions or lead to new symptoms, such as mood swings or psychosis.
Brain damage is another serious side effect of a cocaine overdose, and long-term use of cocaine can result in structural changes in the brain. Some of these relate to reward pathways, and changes in these pathways can increase the risk of addiction. Cocaine use could also lead to legal or social problems.
Cocaine Overdose Statistics
Despite the risks related to a cocaine overdose, cocaine use continues to rise. Statistics show a sharp uptick in cocaine overdoses between 2015 and 2017, and research suggests that the opioid crisis plays a major role in the rising numbers. In Florida alone, fatal cocaine overdoses increased from 57% to 134% in that same time.
- Florida cocaine overdose death rate per 100,000: 2.9 in 2015 and 6.7 in 2017
- The 2017 U.S. cocaine overdose death rate per 100,000 is 4.3, compared to Florida’s 6.7
- 2017 Florida cocaine overdose deaths: 1,336
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Treatment for Cocaine Overdose and Addiction
Knowing the signs of a cocaine overdose can help save lives, and calling 911 and performing CPR can lead to better recovery outcomes. When someone experiencing an overdose arrives at the hospital, medical professionals will start performing cocaine overdose management. They typically watch the patient’s heart rate and provide medications to treat complications. Doctors will also perform tests to check for drug levels and monitor the patient’s health. Cocaine overdose treatment often involves consulting with a psychiatrist or addiction specialist after the patient is in a more stable condition.
Recovering from cocaine overdose may mean facing treatment for cocaine addiction. This is often difficult to face alone, but professional resources are available. These may include structured inpatient programs or outpatient therapy. Peer-led support groups can also be a good source of long-term outpatient support.
If you or a loved one is struggling with cocaine addiction, The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health can help. Contact us today to learn more about treatment plans and programs that can help you begin the journey to long-term recovery.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Overdose Death Rates.” January 2019. Accessed October 18, 2019.
Kariisa, Mbabazi; Scholl, Lawrence; Wilson, Nana; Seth, Puja; Hoots, Brooke. “Drug Overdose Deaths Involving Cocaine and Psychostimulants with Abuse Potential — United States, 2003–2017.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 3, 2019. Accessed October 18, 2019.
American Addiction Centers. “Concurrent Alcohol and Cocaine Abuse.” June 2019. Accessed October 18, 2019.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Synthetic Opioid Overdose Data.” April 2019. Accessed October 18, 2019.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What are some ways that cocaine changes the brain?” May 2016. Accessed October 18, 2019.
Drug Enforcement Administration. “2018 National Drug Threat Assessment.” October 2018. Accessed October 18, 2019.
Tableau Public. “Workbook: Florida Drug-Related Outcomes Surveillance and Tracking System.” (n.d.). Accessed October 18, 2019.