Are Opioids Responsible for the Rise in Cocaine Use and Overdose?

To the alarm of many, it appears that cocaine deaths are on the rise in the United States, and have been for a few years.  According to the latest report, America’s deadliest drug overdose epidemic is underway, with cocaine overdose deaths starting to rise, in 2012, after many years of decline.  Of more concern, though, cocaine deaths jumped by more than one-third between 2016 and 2017, alone.

Harm Reduction Coalition deputy director Daniel Raymond explains, “Certain drugs seem to go in and out of style. Right now we’re seeing an uptick in cocaine use, and we’re hitting that point in the cycle where we’re starting to see more fatal overdoses.”

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comments that this increase appears to be related to opioid use. Data has long shown that overdose death often involves more than one drug.  And in 2017, CDC researchers found that in approximately three quarters of cocaine-related deaths, opioid drugs were also involved. 

At the same time, though, the CDC also warns that deaths involving cocaine, alone, are also on the rise. 

In all, health officials advise that approximately 70,000 Americans died from drug overdose in 2017.  Of that group, almost 48,000 involved at least one type of opioid drug.  And looking more closely, roughly 28,000 of these deaths involved the extremely strong drug fentanyl or another type of synthetic opioid.  Also, more than 15,000 involved heroin and nearly as many involved prescription opioid painkillers. 

Northwestern University professor of psychiatry Hans Breiter is one of the leading experts in the world on how cocaine stimulates the brain. He comments that there is definitely a generational aspect to this. For one, he confides that today’s narcotics users/abusers might be using cocaine because other drugs are getting a lot of bad press. 

He also phrases it this way:  just as the generation that dealt with the surging AIDS epidemic was followed by another generation who was less afraid of it—and, thus, more likely to have unprotected sex—today’s drug users are not afraid of the dangers of cocaine; and they should be.

He comments, “We see this kind of forgetting in politics all the time, for example.  People resurrecting ideas like trickle-down economics, even though it’s been pretty much invalidated.”

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