This informative guide to cocaine overdose and abuse will help you deal with the harmful effects of cocaine intoxication in your home or community.
Understanding the signs and symptoms of cocaine use and overdose in your community is an important step towards creating a safer environment for your friends and family. When your loved ones struggle to overcome addiction, you can provide support more easily when you understand the issues that lie at the heart of the problem. You can seek help from professionals and drug rehabilitation centers. Overdose is a serious concern as it can be extremely damaging to the longterm and short term health of the user. Overdose requires the intervention of medical professionals to ensure the safety of the life of the person who consumed the drug. Seizures, respiratory failure, and incidents of nonfatal myocardial infarction along with fatal brain hemorrhaging and damage to the central nervous system can occur during an overdose.
Symptoms and Signs of Cocaine Use
Many signs can lead family members or close friends to believe that someone has a cocaine addiction. The presence of tightly rolled dollar bills or cut-off straws, commonly used for inhaling the substance into the nostrils, razor blades near smooth metal or mirrored surfaces, screw-capped vials and small envelopes, needles and tourniquets, or small glass pipes may be signs of regular cocaine use.
Physical symptoms may include:
- Dilated pupils
- Profuse sweating,
- Needle tracks.
Behavioral changes including:
- Hyperexcitablility isolation
- Secretive behavior
- Unusual defensiveness
- Wide mood swings
Symptoms may also include a combination of restlessness, high blood pressure, increased physical activity, frequent absences, confusion, and difficulty concentrating.
Immediate Effects of Cocaine Use
Cocaine has a powerful stimulant effect on the body. This creates an immediate sense of excitability in people experiencing cocaine effects. Users may find themselves unable to focus on any given task for a decent length of time, and sitting still may be difficult or even impossible. The stimulant effects of the drug are likely to interfere with or prevent sleep altogether. Breathing speed accelerates, and a marked increase in blood pressure occurs while under the effects of the drug. The enhanced alertness many users experience is part of the allure of its recreational use, but it is possible for death to occur from even a single use. These effects typically last up to thirty minutes but may be prolonged for some users due to the duration and extent of their experiences with the drug.
The long-term effects of cocaine use may be even more dangerous than its short-term influence on the body. Smoking the substance can lead to extensive lung damage over time, and snorting cocaine may create holes and ulcers inside the nasal cavity, including dissolving of the septum. Paranoia and hallucinations may intensify with long-term usage, and personality changes are likely to become far more apparent in those who regularly consume the substance. Violent behavior, along with increased irritability, is a mark of regular cocaine use. Overreactions to stimuli may be even more pronounced when users have been taking the substance over a longer period of time, even when its initial effects have worn off.
Street Names and Availability
Cocaine goes under a variety of different names on the street. Common nicknames for the substance include snow, blow, crack, coke, toot, rock, base, cola, flake, lady, pasta, hubba, and pestillos. Some of these names refer to specific varieties designed for specific ingestion methods. The illicit drug is commonly peddled by dealers on the streets and typically unavailable in any prescription strength. Cocaine use tracking indicates that users tend to fall between the ages of twenty and forty, and the drug is no longer as popular as it was during its peak in the 1980s. Emergency room visits necessary due to cocaine intake numbered 482,000 in 2008. This is comparable to the number of visits necessary due to nonmedical use of over-the-counter and prescription drugs. Deaths from the drug in 2010 numbered between 5,000 and 6,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Can You Overdose on Cocaine?
Users can overdose on the substance very easily. The likelihood of overdose is increased if the forms of the drug that require injection are used or if additional drugs are taken at the same time as cocaine. There is a notable increase in overdose likelihood if heroin and cocaine are combined. The dangers of overdose make it very important to understand that even small quantities of the drug may trigger its effects on some users. The base requirement for toxicity may not even have a specific level but rather depend on the chemical makeup of the user, with some people being far more sensitive to the drug than others.
How Much Cocaine Does It Take to Overdose?
Overdose effects have occurred in people taking only one dose of only a few hundred milligrams of the substance. Others have taken grams of cocaine without fatal overdose effects. This would appear to indicate that the threshold for overdose is not a specific measurement of the drug, but it may instead vary by user. An amount that triggers overdose for one person may only have short-term drug usage effects, not overdose, for another. This makes the drug very dangerous for those unaware of their current thresholds, as a single overdose can create a fatal event very quickly.
Cocaine Overdose Symptoms
Overdose on cocaine is exceptionally dangerous as the body will attempt to purge the system of the substance, but nervous system issues arising from extreme stimulant ingestion can interfere with such a purge.
Common symptoms include:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased body temperature
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
Psychological symptoms including:
- Extreme anxiety
Hallucinations and delirium may also be present during an overdose event.
Cocaine is exceptionally toxic, and its ability to be absorbed through mucous membranes throughout the body creates a situation where ingestion is exceptionally quick and easy. The effect of cocaine on neurotransmitters and its cause of vasoconstriction, or the narrowing of blood vessels, can have severely harmful effects on the body. The drug was originally used as an anesthetic due to its effects on the nervous system and various nerves throughout the body. There are three stages of cocaine toxicity. During the initial stage, the effects of the stimulant are most pronounced, and these immediate effects are often the goal of drug abusers. The second stage is an enhanced stimulant period during which agitation, violent tendencies, and irritability are likely to take the forefront. The third stage, commonly known as the depressive stage, can cause flaccid paralysis, loss of reflexes, apnea, and even death.
Cocaine Overdose Statistics
Along with the 482,000 emergency room visits in 2008 for cocaine-related incidents, cocaine fell between heroin and alcohol for the number of overdose deaths reported by the CDC’s WONDER database in 2010. This puts the number of deaths between 0.2 and 0.25 per 1,000 people. Psychostimulants, narcotics, and heroin were the only substances that created a higher number of deadly overdose incidents. The fact that the toxicity of the drug varies greatly by individual is likely to be one of the major reasons for the prevalence of fatal overdose events. Also, many users may not know that the amount of time it takes to feel the effects varies by consumption type and may repeat ingestion multiple times. Injection and smoking typically require only three to five minutes to take full effect, but oral use peaks after an hour. Nasal use falls between, with about thirty minutes to full potency.
Cocaine Overdose Treatment
Friends and family should seek immediate medical attention for cases of overdose with this substance. Ensure that the person is in an area that is free of dangerous objects such as broken glass, needles, or other paraphernalia and that their breathing is unrestricted. This may require you to remove scarves or other clothing that can obstruct breathing. Medical first responders and hospital staff have specific procedures they can administer that may help save the life of those suffering from an overdose. These procedures include providing oxygen and monitoring the vital signs of those admitted due to overdose on the substance. Medical professionals will focus on the information they gain from clinical study of the patient and devise a plan for getting the overdose under control based on the specific needs of the person who has overdosed. Inform first responders or admissions personnel of any medical conditions that may affect treatment.
After an overdose event, users are likely to begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. These are also potentially hazardous, and many medical professionals may advise continual clinical study to ensure that a lapse into the depressive stage does not occur. Withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant to witness and exceptionally difficult for many patients. The initial crash that begins in the worst of the depressive stage may last far longer when those who have a history of cocaine abuse are taken off the drug. Symptoms of cocaine withdrawal include paranoia, anxiety, depression, exhaustion, fatigue, insomnia, and intense cravings. The duration of the withdrawal stage will vary based on each individual users toxicity and dependence thresholds and the duration and extent of cocaine use.
Cocaine Dependence and Addiction
Cocaine has exceptionally intense addictive properties. These can cause addiction in as little as a single dose, making an overdose event likely to trigger addiction in users. Circadian rhythms may well influence these addictive properties, and certain genes have appeared more often in those who were addicted to the drug. This means that those with specific genes, notably the CAMK4 gene, may be far more likely to experience addiction when exposed to the substance. Because genetics are passed down through family lines, descendants of cocaine addicts with genes matching those found by scientists may be even more susceptible to addiction and dependency. Genetic screening may help identify people bearing the gene before exposure.
Because cocaine is a highly addictive substance, it is important that those who suffer an overdose begin receiving drug rehab treatment for addiction. There is a variety of different options for addiction treatment. Many users respond well to traditional twelve-step programs that stress a reliance on community or a higher power to help reinforce that addiction is not part of normal life and provide support for recovering addicts. Others respond well to psychotherapy and a combination of other methods when recovering from the effects of cocaine addiction. Those who have undergone the overdose and withdrawal stages are likely to have their own personal reasons for getting rid of the addiction, but they may require additional assistance from professionals and organizations dedicated to such support.
There is a wide selection of therapy options available, but many of these are relatively new and lack extensive testing to confirm their results. Some studies indicate that cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational therapy may have great benefits beyond those found in many twelve-step programs. The development of low-dosage vaccines may assist with recovering from the drug, and some have found alternative therapies, such as acupuncture and hypnosis, an effective means. There is no conclusive evidence to support alternative therapies at this time, however. A combination of various therapies and traditional programs may have the best chance of helping an addict break the habit.
Many medications are also under study due to the possibility of them assisting with cocaine withdrawal and helping those who have experienced a long-term addiction or overdose event shed the dependencies created by use of the drug. Possibilities currently being explored include the drugs acetylcysteine, baclofen, and bupropion. Dr. Kim Janda, a specialist working at the Scripps Research Institute, is making headway towards a cocaine vaccine. This medication could reduce or eliminate the effects of cocaine on a person’s system. It is still under work, but could have an excellent chance at preventing future fatal cocaine overdose incidents.
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