Cocaine deaths have hit a record high as the drug has quietly become increasingly popular while the attention of the media and health officials has been on the ongoing opioid epidemic.
In the last 12 months, 14,205 Americans died of cocaine overdoses, marking a 22 percent increase over the previous year, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The worrisome rise in deaths from the stimulant comes as the opioid overdoses finally begin to taper off, falling 2.7 percent from 2017’s record-setting death toll.
Experts suggest that opioids may still be driving the increase in cocaine overdoses, however, as more and more batches of the illicit drug have been found to be laced with the powerful drug, fentanyl, that has proved deadly for opioid users.
In the last 12 months of its data, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 14,205 Americans have died of cocaine overdoses that may be driven by fentanyl
For the last decade, the number of Americans using cocaine has remained stable, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
The agency determined that about 4.7 million Americans over 12 used cocaine, and 38 million had used it at some point in their lives.
Cocaine is a stimulant, acting on dopamine receptors, rather than opioid ones as fentanyl does.
Yet in 2017, seven percent of the cocaine that the Drug Enforcement Administration seized on the East Coast in 2017 contained fentanyl.
That represented a small, but notable, six percent increase over the previous year.
Cocaine users have taken up ‘speedballing,’ a high that gives them both the ‘up’ effect of the stimulant euphoria of the depressant fentanyl as it binds with opioid receptors and depresses the central nervous system.
The practice isn’t a new one – its long been accomplished by combining cocaine and heroin.
But fentanyl is estimated to be 50 times more potent than heroin and can easily overwhelm the central nervous system, especially for a relatively naive opioid user (like one who typically abuses cocaine, but does not habitually user heroin).
It is unclear fentanyl is being slipped into batches of cocaine intentionally or by mistake.
Experts are also struggling to determine which drug is the ultimate killer when both may be involved in overdoses.
The DEA also warned last month that there was an influx of cocaine making its way from Colombia to US cities after Colombia stopped spraying its crops with pesticide that had slowed the production of the drug.
This year’s is not the first increase in cocaine overdose deaths. Between 2015 and 2016, the number of deaths that involved cocaine increased by 52 percent.
And the CDC anticipated the involvement of fentanyl, which it says is being used to cut all manner of drugs, not just heroin and cocaine.
Even the CDC’s director had a close brush with laced cocaine. In July, he told the National Association of County and City Health Officials in New Orleans that his son had nearly died of an overdose of fentanyl-laced cocaine.
The agency previously said the powerful opioid is ‘likely driving the increases in deaths involving cocaine, as there is a lack of awareness of the potency or even knowledge of fentanyl contamination,’ according to the Chicago Sun Times.