New data hint at oncoming cocaine epidemic

Like some drug déjà vu, cocaine use is once again on the rise among students and the rich and famous, a trend University of Florida researchers say likely signals a recurring epidemic of abuse.

Once known as the champagne of drugs, cocaine killed “Saturday Night Live” comedian John Belushi and basketball star Len Bias in the 1980s before use declined in the 1990s.

Now new data from UF and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show that since 2000 cocaine has increasingly been cited as the cause of death in coroner’s reports, and that the number of cocaine deaths per 100,000 people in the state has nearly doubled in the past five years, from 150 in 2000 to nearly 300 in 2005. The steepest per capita rise in death rates was in college towns and wealthy, upper-class seaside communities, such as Melbourne, West Palm Beach and the Florida Keys.

What’s happening in Florida is likely occurring coast to coast, says Mark Gold, M.D., a distinguished professor of psychiatry, neuroscience, anesthesiology and community health and family medicine at UF’s College of Medicine. Gold and colleagues analyzed FDLE data gathered in Florida and presented their findings Oct. 15 at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting in Atlanta.

“Our data is closest to real time to any data available in the United States,” Gold said. “With death reports, there is no fudge factor. The other states will show the same thing: That we are in the early stages of a new cocaine epidemic that is being led by the rich and famous and students with large amounts of disposable income and that is responsible for more emergency room visits and more cocaine-related deaths than we have seen at any time since the last cocaine epidemic.”

Prescription drugs, often abused for the immediate rush of euphoria they trigger, can cause sudden respiratory or cardiac arrest. In contrast, cocaine’s cumulative effects – including blood vessel damage that increases the risk of heart attack or stroke over time – can unexpectedly kill years after abuse begins, Gold said.

“Cocaine gives them a feeling of incredible mastery, that they are immune to the laws of nature,” said Gold, who is affiliated with UF’s McKnight Brain Institute. “But it causes consequences. You can’t say you are out of the risk window simply by surviving the use event. Death can come some time in the future.” Cocaine temporarily induces a high but depletes the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine, which in turn triggers a craving for more of the drug. It is this “drive for the drug,” he said, that makes it more likely for someone who has used cocaine once to use it a second time.

Gold and his colleagues, including Bruce Goldberger, Ph.D., a professor of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine at UF’s College of Medicine, said models, artists and other celebrities addicted to cocaine have “advertised” the drug, enticing students and others with disposable income, who are now among the most frequent users.

Funding for the data analysis came from the UF Foundation’s Substance Abuse Research Endowment.

UF experts said the recent spike in deaths should serve as a wake-up call, prompting more drug education in schools and communities nationwide. Gold said such interventions are necessary to avoid another full-fledged cocaine epidemic.

“Hopefully, with warning and prevention we can help users realize that this is a chronic problem without a cure and their longevity is at question,” he said.

From University of Florida

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3 thoughts on “New data hint at oncoming cocaine epidemic”

  1. Education isn’t going to help any. the DARE program sucked up BILLIONS of tax payer money and the statistics show that it had no effect whatsoever. Well the entire war on drugs has been a failure and we could be using that money for so many other worthwhile causes. Well that is another topic, but one big reason for the increase in college towns is drugs go in and out like other fads and trends. In the 90’s “X” was the big drug along with GHB in many college towns and communities. They really put a lot of pressure to shut down the fabrication, distribution and usage of X and GHB. So instead of being able to make GHB from easily accessible materials, it became extremely hard. This also happened with crystal meth which use to be easy to make at home. So in the 90’s cocaine went out of favor with cheaper meth available and X/GHB popularity peaking. Tables have turned so meth is close in price to cocaine in many areas so many have switched back to cocaine. So I this came out in 2006, which was four years ago and they were correct with the trend. However, now opiates are on the rise because quality and availability has increased. So some think the war on drugs is working because there is a decline with a certain drug, but what they don’t report is that there is always an equal or greater increase of use with another drug that directly correlates with the decline. So it is just a cycle where one drug or group of drugs comes into favor and others leave the scene, but only to come back some years later and trade places at the drug of choice.

  2. it’s inaccurate to say cocaine killed John Belushi – he took a speedball (coke and heroin) the night of his death, and was also very drunk.

    for a fuller examination of why he died, go here

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