Cocaine fatalities are on the rise right alongside opioid overdoses.
Recent data suggests cocaine-related overdose deaths are on the rise as the drug is becoming the most common substance that dealers are lacing with powerful opioids. The amount of fatal cocaine overdoses increased 15% so far this year in the U.S. with Maryland contributing to the most deaths in the first quarter of 2020.
Users refer to the mixture of cocaine, a stimulant, and an opioid (such as heroin), a depressant, as a “speedball.” Cocaine by itself can produce a euphoric high that can lead to dangerous symptoms, including arrhythmia, high blood pressure and cardiac arrest. When mixed with opioids, the stimulant’s “rush” wears off sooner than the effects of the depressant, which can cause sudden death.
Cocaine hasn’t been given as much attention as opioids, but, like heroin, can be laced with fentanyl without a user even knowing. The drug is undetectable with testing strips, and drug traffickers are more and more frequently mixing fentanyl with cocaine, both in powdered and crack form. Public health officials have warned in recent months that the coronavirus pandemic’s effects on the drug supply, which has led to a shortage, could cause a significant increase in drugs sold on the streets.
“Your whole system is kind of thrown a curveball,” said Katherine Engel, director of nursing at the Center for Addiction Treatment in Cincinnati, of the fentanyl-cocaine combination. “You’re an opiate virgin, so to speak.”
And, not only does lacing with fentanyl up the risks of overdose but it completely alters the effects of the traditional “speedball.”
“In the ’70s, a ‘speedball’ was a mix of cocaine and heroin. I call this ‘speedball 2.0.’ Fentanyl has made it much worse,” explained Tom Synan, police chief in Newtown, Ohio. “It’s made every drug people are addicted to into a crisis.”
Centre County, Pennsylvania, District Attorney Bernie Cantorna said the increase in cocaine fatalities “poses a serious health risk to our community and it is important that we be vigilant in regards to loved ones who are struggling with addiction.”
It seems lacing this drug with other substances is becoming more and more common across the board. Sometimes dealers lace cocaine with opioids in order to hook users, and other times, they do it because the opioids are so cheap and they get more bang for their buck. When a toxic combination is taken, the results can be deadly.
A similar data analysis conducted in Europe by the European Drug Report 2020 and presented by the Cyprus National Addictions Authority (NAAC) found there has been an increase in both cannabis and cocaine use in recent years, which cocaine being the most popular stimulant in the general population.