The deadly combination of opioids and cocaine is leading to an increase in cocaine-related overdose deaths in the United States, finds a study published in the March 2017 issue of the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH). The analysis by researchers from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) found that heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl were responsible for the rise in cocaine overdose deaths.
The researchers examined national trend data on drug overdose deaths in the United States between 2000 and 2015. They analyzed deaths involving only cocaine and compared them with deaths resulting from both cocaine and opioids. The analysis showed that:
- During the period 2000 and 2006, the number of deaths from cocaine overdoses increased from around 3,500 to more than 7,400.
- Between 2006 and 2010, there was a drop in cocaine-related deaths. However, there were about 6,800 cocaine-related deaths in 2015, registering another sharp increase between 2010 and 2015 after previously trending downward. According to the researchers, this increase took place notwithstanding a sustained decline in cocaine usage since 2006.
- Between 2006 and 2015, deaths resulting from combined cocaine and opioids overdoses increased, whereas deaths from only cocaine overdoses decreased during this period.
Adulteration of cocaine with heroin and synthetic opioids caused higher overdose deaths
The researchers observed that the latest increase of cocaine overdose deaths corresponded to the rising supply and consumption of heroin and illegally produced fentanyl in the United States. Although the study has not been able to ascertain the reasons for an increase in cocaine-related deaths driven by opioids, there have been instances of individuals mistakenly consuming opioids because the cocaine they used had been spiked with opioids. In June 2016, fentanyl passed off as cocaine led to 12 overdose cases within six hours in New Haven, Conn., three of which resulted in deaths.
The researchers explain that in such a situation, individuals are not able to comprehend the quantity of opioids consumed, which leads to a higher likelihood of an overdose. Moreover, people who are not accustomed to using opioids may be at greater risk since it can lead to potentially lethal respiratory problems, including decreased breathing. For individuals not accustomed to regular opioid use and who have not used it recently, combining cocaine and fentanyl, either mistakenly or otherwise, can lead to hypoventilation or respiratory depression and a resultant overdose.
Of the nearly 6,800 deaths due to a cocaine-related overdose in 2015, over 2,500 deaths involved heroin and nearly 1,100 deaths involved a prescription painkiller in addition to cocaine. Fentanyl contributed to over 1,500 deaths. There was an overlap in a few of these drugs, indicating that an opioid was involved in almost 63 percent of cases.
Role of public health policies to control opioid abuse
Opioid overdoses, including overdoses of prescription painkillers and heroin, resulted in more than 33,000 deaths in 2015, the highest number ever recorded. Findings of the study highlight the importance of effective public health policies to control opioid use disorders, including:
- Broad-based access to naloxone, which is very useful in reversing the effects of opioid overdose.
- Ready availability of naloxone to first responders, emergency workers and members of the community and family, and even for individuals who use only cocaine.
- Expansion of medicine-based treatments for opioid abuse.
Addiction to any substance is dangerous but treatment is possible if reported in time. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction to any drug such as cocaine, contact the Arizona Drug Addiction Helpline to get information on the finest drug addiction treatment centers in Arizona. You can call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-576-4147 or chat online with our experts for further information on drug rehabilitation centers in Arizona offering holistic treatment programs.