Facts About Cocaine
Because of its popularity during the 1980s, cocaine is a drug that is inextricably linked to the excesses of that decade. More recently, however, opioid drugs have grabbed headlines as the opioid crisis has left communities and families devastated across the country.
Despite the prevalence of opioid abuse, cocaine abuse has not gone away. In fact, the rate of overdose deaths in the United States involving cocaine (which remained stable from 2009 to 2013) actually tripled between 2013 and 2018. In 2017, for example, nearly 20 percent of overdose deaths involved cocaine. And, from 2014 to 2018, the rate of overdose deaths involving a combination of cocaine and opioids increased at a higher rate than overdose deaths involving cocaine abuse not combined with opioid abuse. Cocaine, therefore, continues to be a common substance of abuse, often with dangerous and deadly results.
Read on to learn more about cocaine, the dangers of using cocaine on its own or in combination with opioid drugs, and our drug education materials and displays that are perfect to educate audiences about the dangers of drug abuse and the importance of seeking help for a drug abuse problem.
What Is Cocaine?
Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug that affects the brain. It is extracted from the leaves of the coca bush, which grows mainly in South America. Although cocaine is administered in rare cases for legitimate medical purposes, the drug has a high potential for abuse.
The cocaine sold on the street comes in two main forms: cocaine hydrochloride and ”crack” cocaine.
are highlighted in our Drug Identification Guide.
Cocaine hydrochloride is a white crystalline powder that dissolves in water. Users may inhale (snort) this substance or dissolve it in water and inject it using a syringe. Dealers generally dilute pure cocaine with substances such as cornstarch, talcum powder, sugar, or amphetamines. They may also dilute it with an opioid drug, such as fentanyl, without the user’s knowledge. The uncertainty of the cocaine’s purity is one of the most dangerous aspects of the drug.
Crack cocaine is cocaine hydrochloride that has been processed with ammonia or baking soda and water and heated. This process changes the powdered form to a smokable substance by removing the hydrochloride. This “freebase” form of cocaine is broken up into small chunk, chips, or rocks. “Crack” refers to the cracking sound it makes when it is smoked. Because the crack cocaine vapors are inhaled, users feel the effects almost immediately.
Both cocaine and crack are extremely dangerous. Although they come in different forms, cocaine and crack are the same drug and have the same destructive effects.
How Is Cocaine Used?
- Snorted—Cocaine powder is usually inhaled through the nose. This process is called snorting. Snorted cocaine powder is absorbed by the blood vessels in the nose and sinuses.
- Smoked—Heated crack cocaine produces smoke or vapor, which is inhaled into the lungs. The cocaine is then rapidly absorbed by blood vessels in the air sacs of the lungs.
- Injected—Cocaine powder is mixed with water to form a liquid, which is then injected directly into the bloodstream using a syringe. Once in the bloodstream, the drug goes to the heart and brain.
- Absorbed by Mucous Membranes—Although snorting, smoking, and injecting are the most common ways to use cocaine, it can also be absorbed through all mucous membranes, such as through rubbing cocaine on the gums.
facsimiles of cocaine and other drugs.
How Does Cocaine Affect a User?
The brief, initial effects of cocaine use—euphoria, increased energy, and alertness—are apparent to the user almost immediately after a single dose. The duration of cocaine’s euphoric feelings depend in part upon how the drug was taken and how much of the drug was taken. As cocaine use continues, users may experience a decrease in the effects of the drug, often resulting in using more frequent and higher doses. Larger doses can lead to bizarre, erratic, or violent behavior. These users may experience tremors, muscle twitches, or paranoia. Death as a result of a fatal overdose may occur the first time an individual uses cocaine or at any other time of use. Users frequently binge on cocaine until they run out of the drug.
Possible short-term effects include:
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Constricted blood vessels
- Dilated pupils
- Increased body temperature
- Decreased appetite
- Feelings of restlessness
- Sudden death
Possible long-term effects include:
- Severe paranoia
- Auditory hallucinations
Long-term use of cocaine can also result in a chronic stuffy nose, frequent nose bleeds, loss of taste and smell, and damage to the nasal septum (the cartilage between the nostrils). Consuming cocaine orally may reduce blood flow, resulting in decay of the bowel. Smoking cocaine can cause respiratory issues, including asthma and increased risk of pneumonia. Injecting cocaine increases the risk of bloodborne diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C. Long-term abuse of cocaine may also lead to the development of movement disorders, including Parkinson’s disease.
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Using cocaine during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, and heart defects in infants. Babies born to mothers who used cocaine may experience neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which occurs when a newborn is born with a drug dependency. Babies with NAS are hospitalized to help relieve painful withdrawal symptoms.
Combining Cocaine With Opioids
Using cocaine in combination with an opioid drug, such as heroin, is known as “speedballing.” Injection is the typical form of speedballing, but cocaine and opioid drug combinations may also be snorted or used in other ways. In addition to heroin, other opioid drugs may be used to create a speedball with cocaine, such as fentanyl, morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, oxymorphone, and codeine. Cocaine users often may be unaware that their cocaine has been combined with a powerful opioid such as fentanyl, increasing the risk of a dangerous adverse reaction.
Speedballs increase the likelihood of a fatal overdose resulting from respiratory failure. When the stimulant effects of the cocaine wear off, respiratory depression from the opioid drug can occur. Death from a stroke or heart attack can also result from speedballing.
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Cocaine addiction is a complex problem involving biological, behavioral, and environmental factors. The good news is that, like any type of substance abuse, it can be treated successfully. If you or someone you know has a problem with cocaine or other drugs, seek help. Contact your healthcare professional or a substance abuse helpline for information and referrals to substance abuse treatment services.
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At Health Edco, we are known for our comprehensive drug education resources that cover substances of abuse—such as cocaine, opioids, marijuana, methamphetamine, and more—as well as their devastating consequences. To find more of our drug education resources, check out our product section dedicated to drug education materials and displays.
The information contained in this article is not intended to replace the advice of a healthcare professional. If you have any questions, please contact your healthcare professional.
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