What is Causing the Rise in Cocaine Overdose Deaths?

cocaine overdose

What is Causing the Rise in Cocaine Overdose Deaths?

Table of Contents

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant that can become highly addictive and abused. The substance brings feelings of euphoria and an increased level of alertness. Because of the substance, individuals may experience symptoms of a cocaine overdose, which can result in loss of life.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, cocaine overdose occurs when an individual takes a quantity that enables it to reach toxic levels in the body.1 This article provides helpful information about the substance, overdose symptoms, signs of use, and treatment procedures.

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is an addictive substance that causes an increased level of sensitivity to the environment and energy levels. It is commonly called a stimulant, and it originates from the coca plant from South America. The substance comes in different forms, which include fine white powder, liquid cocaine, and solid rock crystal or “crack cocaine”.

This substance belongs to the drug class SNDRI CNS stimulant Local anesthetic. Under the Controlled Substances Act, cocaine is classified as a Schedule II drug, which means it has high abuse potential. The feelings of pleasure that individuals enjoy from the dopamine build-up in the brain make it highly addictive. Substance use disorder is also highly possible due to the increase in confidence it may cause.2

Can You Overdose on Cocaine?

Overdosing to crack cocaine is highly possible, especially when an individual develops both physical and psychological dependence on the drug. 96mg/kg of the substance may be toxic enough to cause overdose or death, but the exact dose varies from person to person. Factors that determine overdose include the individual’s tolerance, drug purity, age, and health condition.

Significant dangers of overdose from the substance range from mild to severe symptoms. Examples of notable signs of overdose include hallucinations, high blood pressure, extreme levels of anxiety or agitation, breathing problems, irregular heart rhythm, and loss of life.

Cocaine Use Symptoms

Cocaine usage causes high levels of dopamine in parts of the brain. Note that dopamine is a chemical messenger in the body that plays a role in arousal, reinforcement, and reward. Here are the significant symptoms of use:

  • Anxiety: As a stimulant drug, liquid cocaine or crack also has tendencies to worsen anxiety. When the effects of the substance wear off, individuals may experience anxiety due to short-term withdrawal.
  • Paranoia: This condition is characterized by exaggerated self-importance, delusions of danger, or jealousy. Note that this symptom is common among individuals with severe substance abuse of cocaine.3
  • Panicky Feelings: Panicky feelings due to cocaine usage is prevalent. When accompanied by other physical, mental, or emotional symptoms, it may signify a panic disorder.

Common Signs of Cocaine Overdose

The rate of deaths due to cocaine overdoses are on the rise. For this reason, it is essential to comprehend the significant cocaine overdose symptoms:
  • Behavior: One of the major signs of cocaine overdose is behavioral symptoms like a panicked feeling, which may cause restlessness.
  • Skin: Due to overdose, individuals may have blue-colored skin. The individual may also experience excessive sweating and severe discomfort.
  • Breathing: Overdose of the substance may result in respiratory problems like issues breathing appropriately.
  • Seizures: Seizures are often a sign of a major cocaine overdose. Note that seizures and severe agitation require immediate action to prevent hyperthermia.
  • Physiological: A cocaine overdose may lead to psychological symptoms like anxiety and paranoia, which may result in certain behavioral symptoms of overdose.

Why is Cocaine Overdose on the Rise?

Cocaine overdose is on the rise in the United States and other regions worldwide. Reports from the National Institute on Drug Abuse state that overdose from cocaine rose by 3,591 between 2015 to 2016. In 2017, the number of deaths from overdose was 14,556.4 Fentanyl-laced cocaine overdose is also increasingly prevalent. Note that fentanyl is a synthetic and powerful opioid. Approximately 37% of cocaine-related overdose deaths in New York involved fentanyl in 2017. Connecticut also recorded 143 overdose fatalities in that same year due to the drugs.5

Cocaine Overdose Treatment

When an overdose occurs, it is imperative to take immediate steps for treatment. Here’s what you should know about cocaine overdose treatment:

Call 911

Once you observe the symptoms of a cocaine overdose in yourself or any individual around, call 911 for immediate help. After placing the call, ensure that you identify it as “MEDICAL” for it to transfer to the right dispatch center.

Cooling, Calming, and Breathing

While waiting for emergency medical help, individuals should take helpful steps to increase their chances of survival. There is a high tendency that the individual experiencing overdose feels very hot. For this reason, remove all unnecessary clothing from the body and allow the skin surface to stay cool. Ensure that you try to remain calm and breathe in and out actively.

In the Hospital

In the cocaine overdose treatment facility, medical experts may use different medications or procedures to stabilize the individual. Examples include benzodiazepines and antipsychotics. Non-dihydropyridine calcium channel blockers may help treat cocaine toxicity levels.6

Nitroglycerin and nitroprusside may be useful in treatment since they produce balanced arterial and venous dilation to calm the patient. Note that both nitroglycerin and nitroprusside are primarily for lowering blood pressure.7

Treatment for Cocaine Addiction

Treating cocaine addiction may involve behavioral interventions or pharmacological approaches. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, cocaine accounted for almost 6% of all admissions to drug use treatment programs. Here are the different treatment methods:8
  • Detox: This method is a significant technique to manage the withdrawal symptoms when stopping cocaine use. Detox involves symptoms like depression, paranoia, suicidal thoughts or actions, and anxiety.
  • Therapy: After detox, the body may be at a high risk of relapse due to factors like stress, social networks, or certain environmental cues. Therapy helps in the recovery process by reducing the chances of a relapse.
  • Inpatient/Outpatient Care: Inpatient care requires the individual to stay in a medical faculty to receive appropriate treatment. It may be disruptive to daily life, but it is designed for severe cocaine addictions. On the other hand, outpatient care only requires the individual to go for treatment during the day and get access to a social life circle.
The rise in cocaine overdose deaths is alarming and may be due to inadequate awareness of the effects of the substance. Speak to a trusted loved one about the challenges of addiction to the substance and consider seeking immediate medical care.


  1. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/cocaine
  2. https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/cocaine.pdf
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1752853/
  4. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
  5. https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/about/press/pr2018/pr041-18.page
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8163794/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430976/
  8. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-treatments-are-effective-cocaine-abusers

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