What to Do if You Overdose on Cocaine
As a central nervous system stimulant, cocaine raises heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and respiration with intensified responses to both internal and external stimuli that can lead to other dangers. Overdose on cocaine can occur in individuals who consume even the smallest amounts of the drug and according to the NIDA, “Other than medical uses, there is no safe way to use cocaine.”
Cocaine comes in a variety of forms including paste, liquid, powder, and free base forms known as crack. It is usually consumed via non-oral routes such as snorting, smoking, or injecting that delivers the cocaine chemicals to the brain quickly to enact their effects. Cocaine addiction is extremely dangerous because the effects are short-lived, immediately prompting cravings for more, and exposing the body to large amounts of cocaine over time.
The DEA classifies cocaine as a Schedule II controlled substance with limited medical purposes and a high potential for abuse that may lead to severe physical or psychological dependence. Depending on the user, dose, method of consumption, and combination with other drugs, the cocaine “high” can produce rewarding effects of euphoria, alertness, energy, and empowerment or negative effects ranging from intense anxiety to psychosis.
Illegal profits are high for cocaine because once the person gets started using it, binges and repeat abuse often becomes the norm. According to the 2014 UNODC World Drug Report “the number of first-time users actually declined in 2012, while the trend in past-year use was increasing only in the older age categories.” These people are more apt to suffer from the problematic toxins in the cocaine than their younger cohorts and be less aware of the trends in adulterated cocaine found on the streets today.
From the coca paste made using highly toxic chemicals, to the disguising additives used to circumvent detection of the drug while trafficking, and substances added to increase profits throughout the distribution chains, an accidental poisoning overdose on cocaine is unpredictable.
Cocaine Overdose Complications
Cocaine’s half life is about half of an hour, but, it’s never wise to assume that things will be o.k. once the initial rush wears off because there are many complications that can occur immediately or afterwards including:
- Respiratory problems or failure
- Cardiovascular effects including disturbances in heart rhythm, heart attacks, and surges in blood pressure that can rupture weakened and constricted blood vessels, any of which can cause sudden death.
- Strokes, seizures, hemorrhages in blood vessels or arteries
- Psychosis and mental health disturbances that last indefinitely
- Organ damages and other long term physical health impairments
Recognizing Cocaine Overdose Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of an overdose on cocaine may include:
- Hyperthermia or over-heating, sweats and chills
- Rapid respiration, shortness of breath
- Hypertension or fast pounding heart
- Abdominal pain or nausea
- Weakness, pain, or numbness in extremities
- Chest pains
- Blurred vision
- Extreme agitation, anxiety, nervousness, or panic
- Confusion, dizziness, or fainting
- Incoherent speech or unable to speak
- Coordination loss
- Seizures, tremors, or excessive shakiness
- Suicidal ideations or harmful tendencies
- Mania, paranoia, erratic or bizarre behaviors, hallucinations including tactile hallucinations of bugs crawling under the skin (“coke bugs”)
What to Do if You Overdose on Cocaine
First of all, never assume that your fellow cocaine users will be able to help when things get tricky. Trying to manage symptoms you know are harmful or trying to counteract the effects using other substances is a recipe for death. Unfortunately, many cocaine abusers are poly-substance abusers who have access to alcohol, opioids, and benzodiazepine drugs that they resort to when their cocaine “high” gets too extreme. Using these substances however, only complicates the matter.
Alcohol, when combined with cocaine, creates a new metabolite known as coca ethylene which increases the effects of cocaine rather than minimizing it as one might think. No matter how experienced you may think you are in managing an overdose on cocaine, every dose takes you a little more close to the end and emergency treatment should be sought.
Forget being exposed. Drug abuse is occurring in epidemic proportions and emergency physicians and other healthcare providers are there to help without scrutiny or judgment. The CDC reports that “Drug overdose was the leading cause of injury death in 2013. Among people 25 to 64 years old, drug overdose caused more deaths than motor vehicle traffic crashes.” Don’t’ be one of the statistics.
If you survive an overdose on cocaine, you should seek cocaine abuse treatment services. The residual effects of an overdose on cocaine can leave a person feeling guilty, confused, depressed, or even suicidal. Often, the true extent of the damages from an overdose on cocaine may go unnoticed although the complications continue to progress. No one should be fooled into thinking things will be o.k. simply because they survived.