March 1, 2024

Drug Abuse

Cocaine Is Back, Killing More Than Ever

The signs: Increased business at rehab centers. Those Ski-related personal ads. A big spike in death rates.

Amy Keller | 5/1/2008

The trend began to reveal itself about five years ago — in centrifuges and under microscopes — at the University of Florida’s Forensic Toxicology Laboratory. Each year, the lab assists seven Florida medical examiners’ offices with about 3,000 cases, helping to identify toxic substances in bodies as medical examiners perform autopsies.

powdered cocaine
Increased business at rehab centers ... ‘ski’-related personal ads ... a big spike in death rates ... cocaine’s back. [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]
Dr. Bruce Goldberger, the UF toxicologist who runs the lab, says he began to notice a “significant increase” in the number of cases in which cocaine either caused the death or was present in the blood stream. When he and his colleagues looked at data collected by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement from all 24 of the state’s medical examiners, they found that cocaine-related deaths had been rising all over Florida — from 1,034 in 2000 to 2,052 in 2006. The raw numbers also translated into a statistical spike in the cocaine-related death rate, from 6.4 deaths per 100,000 people in 2001 to 11.2 in 2005.

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Law enforcement officials, other medical researchers and substance abuse specialists agree: More than 20 years after cocaine’s heyday in the early 1980s, a new generation has discovered the drug.

The new users, it seems, prefer to snort it rather than smoke it. “Crack users probably are in the minority of what we’re seeing. We are seeing a lot of patients with powdered cocaine use,” says Jerry Rudd, business development and community relations director for the Advanced Recovery Center in Delray Beach.

Consistent with a preference for powdered cocaine, the new users — and victims — tend to be college students and young, affluent professionals. Death certificates of cocaine users don’t disclose income levels. But another UF researcher, Mark Gold, chief of the division of addiction medicine at UF’s McKnight Brain Institute, found that the geographic regions marked by the biggest increases in cocaine-related death rates include college towns like Gainesville and Tallahassee and wealthy enclaves like Sarasota, Naples and Melbourne.

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