To answer this question simply, yes. Cocaine use can directly lead to fatalities.
While cocaine use can kill you, there are several things to take into consideration when it comes to determining if cocaine has the capability to kill someone. The chemical makeup of cocaine plays a large role in the effects of cocaine abuse, addiction, and ultimately overdose.
Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant derived from the South American coca plant. The positive effects of cocaine use can include euphoria, bursts of energy, and increased social skills. Unfortunately, there are many severe negative side effects associated with cocaine use, including extremely high heart rate and blood pressure, seizures, and a number of other symptoms that may result in untimely death.
The first step in understanding the severe dangers of cocaine and cocaine use is simply knowing what cocaine exactly is.
What Is Cocaine?
Cocaine use, being one of the most powerful stimulants, can seriously affect the functionality of the central nervous system. The coca plant that cocaine is derived from contains naturally-occurring opioids and, when turned into cocaine, it becomes highly addictive and very dangerous.
Cocaine is generally sold on the streets as a white, powdery, crystal form and goes by many different street names such as coke, rock, snow, and blow. Cocaine can be ingested in a variety of ways, though nasal ingestion is the most common. Other methods of ingestion can include rubbing it into the user’s gums or dissolving it in water and injecting it intravenously. Cocaine can also be processed into crack cocaine, a freebase substance that can be smoked (usually referred to simply as “crack”.)
As soon as cocaine enters the system, it begins to almost immediately affect the user. By almost instantly blocking the recycling of dopamine in the brain, cocaine causes your brain to stop producing its own dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. As the sudden surge of dopamine caused by cocaine use builds up, the user quickly develops a tolerance and dependence. Cocaine dependency quickly turns into an addiction as soon as a user loses control over their cocaine intake, relying solely on cocaine for happiness.
As listed by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), cocaine is classified as a Schedule I drug. This means that cocaine is considered one of the most commonly used and abused illicit drugs, with cannabis being slightly more widely used. Though the current opioid epidemic may undermine the dangers of stimulant abuse and addiction, cocaine can quickly and easily erode a user’s life, literally.
What Makes Cocaine So Dangerous?
Cocaine and the ingredients involved in the production of cocaine can range from being mildly uncomfortable to potentially death-inducing. The physical side effects of cocaine are far-reaching and may include dilated pupils, insomnia, a huge spike in blood pressure, loss of appetite, heart rate irregularities, and much more. As time goes on and more illicit drugs are being created and abused, cocaine becomes less and less pure on the street. Street dealers commonly cut cocaine with other substances to achieve higher profits, but those other substances are one of the main reasons that cocaine overdose is so common.
Life-Threatening Effects Of Overdose
Common life-threatening side effects related to cocaine abuse and overdose may include the following:
- Cardiac arrest
- Cardiac arrhythmias
In special cases, depending on the way that cocaine is ingested, a number of unique negative side effects will present themselves. When inhaled, usually in the form of “laced” marijuana, long-term ingestion of cocaine can lead to a unique case of respiratory syndrome. When snorted, which is much more prevalent, upper nasal erosion is common and can lead to nosebleeds and headaches.
As soon as the effects of a cocaine overdose become noticeable, there is a much higher chance of fatality. Many studies and medical experts suggest that cocaine overdoses are generally fatal, as major body systems are affected. The following may occur during a fatal cocaine overdose:
- Heart attack
- Multiple organ failures
Life-Threatening Effects Of Chronic Use
While overdose can easily lead to death, it is not the only way that cocaine can kill you. Chronic cocaine abuse and addiction can lead to many long-term, life-threatening side effects that are physiological and psychological.
The physiological, life-threatening side effects of long-term cocaine abuse can include:
- Brain damage due to hyperthermia
- Intracerebral (brain) hemorrhaging
The psychological state of a user is also heavily affected when it comes to long-term cocaine use, leading to more risky, life-threatening behaviors. They may include the following:
- Psychosis (dissociation/hard-to-grasp reality)
- Engaging in unsafe actions with others (unsafe sexual intercourse, criminal activity, etc.)
- Societal disruption (domestic violence, child neglect, etc.)
While some may not seem like life-threatening symptoms, the side effects associated with long-term cocaine use very often indirectly, but permanently, affect the user. For example, someone who previously would never shoplift might find themselves craving cocaine, but not having the funds. If they shoplift and get caught, their lives are permanently affected by the immoral decision caused by cocaine addiction.
Other psychological symptoms, such as psychosis, are obviously dangerous and life-threatening. Having such delusions and dissociation can lead to compulsive decision-making that may cost the victim their life.
In a medically-supervised facility, it is common to measure the victim’s vital signs (temperature, pulse, breathing, blood pressure, etc.) After the state of the victim has been determined, the symptoms are then taken care of accordingly.
Medications are a doctor’s number one tool in treating an overdose, especially in cocaine overdose cases. While there are no “cures” for cocaine overdose, drugs such as benzodiazepines are commonly used to help bring a fast heart rate down to a stable rate. Benzos like diazepam and lorazepam are among the most commonly used benzos in treating cocaine overdose and help mitigate both anxiety and low blood pressure associated with cocaine overdose.
It is important to note that, while these methods and medications can help treat cocaine overdose, chronic cocaine abuse and addiction almost always require follow-up addiction treatment and rehab. Simply recovering from an overdose does nothing to treat addiction and, if treatment does not follow recovery, the victim may continue to abuse. Only this time, they might not recover from an overdose.