Cocaine is a stimulant and anesthetic drug that originates from the coca plant in South America.1 When it was first isolated in the mid-1800s, it was considered safe but has since become a major cause of health problems worldwide.1 In the US, approximately 5.2 million people used cocaine in 2020, with 1.3 million people having a cocaine use disorder.2
A Schedule II controlled substance, cocaine has a high potential for misuse, tolerance, dependence, and addiction.3 This is primarily due to cocaine being a fast-acting drug; it can be snorted as a powder, swallowed, injected, or smoked as freebase (crack cocaine).4 Effects appear within minutes and the euphoric high is relatively short-lived, disappearing within an hour.4 As a result, people typically use it in a binge pattern, often increasing the dose with each use. Using too much cocaine in a short period of time, particularly with escalating doses, puts a person at risk of experiencing a potentially life-threatening overdose.
What is a Cocaine Overdose?
A cocaine overdose is a phenomenon experienced when a person ingests enough cocaine to induce serious, dangerous symptoms.4 The amount of cocaine that will induce an overdose varies per person, which means even a small dose can result in a symptoms of overdose, and that overdose can occur even on a person’s first use.4 Cocaine overdoses are considered medical emergencies, as the symptoms can be severe and possibly result in death if left untreated.1
Cocaine overdoses are a growing problem in the United States.6 In particular, overdose deaths from stimulants have increased over the past 20 years, with most deaths attributed to stimulants taken with synthetic or semisynthetic opioid drugs.6 The 12 months from June of 2019 to May of 2020 saw cocaine overdose deaths increasing by 26.5 percent, emphasizing the continuing nature of the problem.6
Dangers & Symptoms of Cocaine Overdose
Cocaine can have serious effects on several bodily systems.1 Due to the fast-acting effects of cocaine, a person may go through the initial stimulating effects on the body, but then experience profound CNS depression shortly after.5 A person experiencing cocaine overdose may have the following signs and symptoms:4
- Irregular heart rhythm.
- Chest pain.
- Heart attacks.
- Difficulty breathing.
- High blood pressure.
- High body temperature.
The severity of a cocaine overdose can vary dramatically, but all overdoses are still considered a medical emergency.
Cocaine Overdose Treatment
If you suspect you or a loved one is experiencing a cocaine overdose it is of paramount importance that you call 911. Emergency medical services are often required in order to provide immediate treatment.
While there is no drug available that can reverse a cocaine overdose, there are various medical interventions that have been shown to be effective.4 Which treatments one will receive for a cocaine overdose will depend on an evaluation of one’s symptoms by emergency medical personnel. For example, if one is having a heart attack as a result of a cocaine overdose, medical staff may focus on treating those symptoms.4 Care may be continued by various medical staff depending on the presenting symptoms.1
Those who experience a cocaine overdose may be encouraged by doctors to seeking drug counseling following initial medical care.1 A comprehensive addiction treatment program may be an effective next step to those who are dependent on cocaine and experienced an overdose.
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