January 30, 2023

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

Karen Perry
In 2000, Karen Perry’s son, Richard, admitted he was a drug addict. He underwent treatment but died three years later of an overdose of cocaine and other illegal and legal drugs while away at college. [Photo: Matt Dean]
The circumstances surrounding Perry’s death are common, says Gary Martin, associate dean for student wellness at Lynn University in Boca Raton and a homicide detective who investigates drug-related deaths for the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. And while cocaine is the second-leading substance discovered in drug-related deaths (methadone is first) in Palm Beach County, it’s rarely the case that cocaine is the only drug found. Usually, it’s a combination of chemicals. “Consuming cocaine is like stepping on the gas pedal and going 90 miles per hour, and when you’re coming down off it, it’s really uncomfortable. The way to come down slowly is with some of these other sedatives. It’s called a parachute.”

Even as the death rates climb, cocaine’s full toll may not show up for years. Gold, one of the country’s leading experts on addiction medicine, says the death figures underestimate the true extent of cocaine use in the state because the damage that the drug inflicts on the body of a chronic user can take years to reveal itself. Cocaine use leads to cardiovascular disease. So while people who use cocaine in their 20s might not experience dire health consequences now, Gold says, they may suffer from strokes, brain bleeds and fatal arrhythmias as they reach their 40s and 50s.

“If you take an overdose of heroin or prescription narcotic, you typically would come to an emergency room and your death due to that drug would occur within a short period of time,” he says. “For cocaine deaths, the deaths could occur many years after.”

Cocaine Stats

  • 10,757 ...
    Number of Floridians from 2000 through 2006 who have died with cocaine in their systems, often in combination with other substances, including prescription painkillers.
  • 1,008 ...
    Number of Florida residents who died during the first six months of 2007 after ingesting cocaine, which caused more deaths than any other single substance.
  • 73% ...
    Percentage of cocaine users who smoked the drug in 2005, down from 79% in 1995.
  • 22% ...
    Percentage of cocaine users who inhaled — or snorted — the drug in 2005, up from 14% in 1995.

    Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

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