An opioid epidemic is gripping the United States and has taken center stage in recent years, but other drugs such as cocaine continue to exact a toll on our society.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on drugs involved in overdose deaths nationwide from 2011-2016, and cocaine regularly factored into the top two or three spots over that period.
That doesn’t mean the stimulant alone was responsible for all those deaths, but cocaine overdose statistics definitely paint a grim picture, especially when you realize 5,892 people perished with cocaine in their systems in 2014, and by 2016, that number nearly doubled to 11,316.
Cocaine is also becoming more available in the U.S. once again. In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a huge amount making its way stateside. Coca plant cultivation is up, and that means more is hitting U.S. markets.
Another reason why fatalities are rising is that the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl is being added to many street drugs, including cocaine. Fentanyl is a substance that needs to be very carefully dosed. To do otherwise is extremely dangerous.
Cocaine has its own unique risks, however.
Cocaine can be deadly both in the short- and long-term. Too much, or with a pre-existing condition (such as heart disease), and the stimulant can cause heart attack or stroke. How it’s used can cause different issues, both inconvenient and infinitely more dangerous. Snorting cocaine can result in: Smoking cocaine can lead to: Injecting cocaine creates a higher risk for: There’s no quick answer to the question: How long does it take to overdose on cocaine? Nor is there a quick answer as to how much can kill. Some estimates are that 1.5 to 2 grams of cocaine, taken all at once, would be enough to trigger an overdose. The simple truth is, cocaine carries many risks.
How Does Cocaine Kill You?
Cocaine can be deadly both in the short- and long-term. Too much, or with a pre-existing condition (such as heart disease), and the stimulant can cause heart attack or stroke. How it’s used can cause different issues, both inconvenient and infinitely more dangerous.
Snorting cocaine can result in:
Smoking cocaine can lead to:
Injecting cocaine creates a higher risk for:
There’s no quick answer to the question: How long does it take to overdose on cocaine? Nor is there a quick answer as to how much can kill. Some estimates are that 1.5 to 2 grams of cocaine, taken all at once, would be enough to trigger an overdose.
The simple truth is, cocaine carries many risks.
What Happens During a Cocaine Overdose?
Cocaine affects the central nervous system, so immediate effects include agitation, seizures, and psychosis. It can also affect the cardiovascular system, so the following can happen when you overdose on cocaine:
- The heart rate can elevate to dangerous levels
- Abnormal heart rhythms may occur
- Blood pressure may spike
- Cardiovascular collapse (reduced blood flow can lead to a heart attack)
- A stroke may occur
Sweating, palpitations, and chest pain can also occur (which can be due to a heart attack).
Cocaine can also be a silent killer. It may not be immediately apparent, but prolonged use can cause excess fluid to build up in the heart, stiffen and thicken cardiac muscles, and reduce the resting heart rate and the pumping action to dangerously low levels.
Abusing cocaine can also lead to kidney failure, seizures, spasms, rigidity, tremors, and jerky movements.
One’s body temperature can also skyrocket (hyperthermia), producing a deadly fever (up to 113 degrees Fahrenheit). The higher the temperature, the more likely the liver and kidneys may shut down. Brain damage is possible.
Because the proteins that regulate blood clotting go into overdrive, excessive bleeding can occur. Bodily fluids can become too acidic, causing rapid respiration, confusion, and possibly death.
What Does a Cocaine Overdose Feel Like?
After someone uses cocaine, they may feel a burst of energy and confidence. Too much, however, can cause someone to experience delirium.
Delirium may manifest as aggression, hyperactivity, paranoia, a high body temperature, and screaming, as well as incredible strength. If someone has an underlying heart condition, they also run a greater risk of experiencing a heart attack or stroke after using coke.
When someone overdoses on cocaine, it’s a life-threatening emergency, and it’s best to contact 911 immediately. Look for the following symptoms:
- Shallow or stopped breathing
- Inability to focus or speak
- Darkened fingernails and lips
- Bluish or grayish skin
- Gurgling sounds
If you suspect an overdose, shake or yell at the person to try to rouse them. Press your knuckles to their chest while gently massaging the area. Apply CPR. Turn them onto their side to help them breathe better. Stay near them until the ambulance arrives.
Combining cocaine with other drugs (such as heroin) can be especially dangerous. Cocaine, because it’s a stimulant, can counteract the sedative effects of heroin, making it easy to take too much. Cocaine also wears off faster, and the heroin, still active in the person’s body, can slow the user’s breathing to the point where it slows and even stops.
That first bump of cocaine may cause a rush, but the risks it carries are extremely high. It could send the user rushing to the hospital. It could also be the first of many uses, ultimately leading to any number of health complications or a hard-to-shake addiction.
- cdc.gov – Drugs Most Frequently Involved in Drug Overdose Deaths: United States, 2011-2016
- dea.gov – 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment
- quora.com – What Is Considered a Lethal Dose of Cocaine for Regular Users of the Drug? Is 2g a Day Legal?
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Cocaine Toxicity
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Mechanisms of Acute Cocaine Toxicity
- heart.org – Heart Attack Symptoms in Women
- healthline.com – What Effects Does Cocaine Have on Your Heart?
- medlineplus.gov – Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation
- medlineplus.gov – Metabolic Acidosis
- healthline.com – What Happens After Using Cocaine Once?
- healthline.com – Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)
- drugabuse.gov – What Are the Short-Term Effects of Cocaine Use?
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