Mental Health

Cocaine Overdose Deaths in U.S. Triple Between 2013 and 2018

It’s no secret that our country has a drug problem. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that in 2017 a person was more likely to die from a drug overdose than in a car accident.

Researchers with the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) recently released a report that looked at the death rate from overdoses involving cocaine between the years 2009 and 2018. After remaining stable from 2009 to 2013, the death rate tripled between 2013 and 2018. Cocaine mixed with opioids played a major part in the rise in death rates. And, according to the report, blacks are dying from cocaine overdoses at a higher rate than other populations.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) 2019 National Drug Threat Assessment report warned that sometimes the user isn’t aware that an opioid such as synthetic fentanyl has been added to the cocaine. This can result in a medical emergency for a user who hasn’t built up a tolerance for opioids.

Eric Morse, MD, an addiction and sports psychiatrist in North Carolina, interviewed by email, said the addition of fentanyl derivatives to cocaine “has significantly reduced the price of what you can buy in the streets. Physicians are cutting back on prescribing, so the cost of legitimate pills has gone way up. It almost forces people to turn to the street fentanyl.”

The DEA report said street prices for cocaine decreased over the four years ending in December 2017 to a low of $153 per gram. In the same time period, the price of heroin went up to a high of $1,168 per gram.

It’s now 2020, and the death toll is still mounting. Holly Hedegaard, MD, an author of the NCHS brief, told Medical Daily, “Provisional estimates from NCHS … suggest the numbers continued to increase in 2019 and early 2020.”

“Prevention and increased access to care,” said Dr. Morse, when asked what needs to happen to reduce deaths from drug overdoses.

Dr. Morse alluded in his email to the 1986 death of University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias, who died of a cocaine overdose at the age of 22 after being selected by the Boston Celtics in the NBA draft.

“I know if he can die from cocaine, anyone can,” wrote Dr. Morse.

The take-home

If you need help with a drug addiction, don’t try to manage alone. Reach out to your doctor or call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Helpline at 1-800-662- HELP (4357).

 

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