The rate of people dying from cocaine-related overdoses increased between 2012 and 2015, and federal researchers believe the opioid epidemic could be the cause. In a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers analyzed cocaine overdose data and found that cocaine overdose deaths were increasing despite less frequent cocaine use in the United States.
They attributed the increase to a rise in supply and use of heroin and fentanyl that occurred during the same time as the increase in cocaine overdose deaths. Previous research has indicated that cocaine addiction was a risk factor for heroin and prescription opioid abuse. The drugs are commonly taken together in a concoction called a “speedball.”
In Cleveland, officials believe heroin and fentanyl may be responsible for a local increase in cocaine-related deaths. The Cuyahoga County medical examiner reported 19 deaths from cocaine mixed with heroin or fentanyl in January 2017, and local authorities believe that the mixture is responsible for 14 deaths that occurred during the first weekend in February, according to Cleveland.com.
The opioid epidemic has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives during the past decade, but its impact isn’t limited to people who use opioids only. Increases in benzodiazepine overdoses led the Food and Drug Administration to warn doctors and consumers not to use benzodiazepines and opioids together in 2016.
Prescription opioids include painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and codeine. Benzodiazepines are anti-anxiety drugs, such as Xanax and Valium. Both classes of drugs can cause respiratory depression that can lead to death.
Now it appears that drug dealers are lacing cocaine with opioids to increase the strength of their drugs while cocaine availability is low. The combination is causing people who use cocaine to overdose, according to the American Journal of Public Health study.
The percentage of people dying from cocaine-related deaths involving opioids increased from 29 percent in 2000 to 63 percent in 2015. In 2015, heroin or synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, were involved in 81 percent of those deaths.
Decreases in the amount of cocaine available on the street and increases in cocaine prices may have contributed to a decrease in cocaine deaths between 2006 and 2010. Cocaine use continued to decrease between 2010 and 2015, but overdose deaths became more prevalent as heroin and other opioids became more available on the street.
In 2014, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s forensic laboratories reported that Florida and Ohio were among 10 states with the most fentanyl seizures in the country. Fentanyl is an extremely powerful opioid that has been linked to increases in overdoses in recent years.
Researchers from the University of Florida, Ohio Department of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discovered that fentanyl-related deaths often involved other illicit substances.
In Florida, 17 percent of fentanyl-related deaths between 2010 and 2012 involved cocaine. That number grew to 33 percent between 2013 and 2014.
In 14 Ohio counties, 23 percent of deaths from fentanyl also involved cocaine. In both states, cocaine and heroin were the most common substances involved in fentanyl-related deaths.
Prevention specialists in Florida, Ohio and other states are trying to raise awareness about the dangers of consuming drugs bought on the street because users don’t know what’s in the product they’re buying. Meanwhile, law enforcement is continuing to crack down on drug dealers.