Opioids are driving increase in cocaine overdose deaths

Science Spotlight

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An examination of national trend data shows that heroin and synthetic opioids are driving a recent increase in cocaine-related overdose deaths. The assessment was conducted by scientists at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (CDC), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The report showed that cocaine-related overdose deaths increased between 2000 and 2006, and declined between 2006 and 2010 (consistent with a reduction in supply and an increase in street prices). However, cocaine-related overdose deaths increased after 2010, despite decreased cocaine use. The scientists found that this latest increase was related to cocaine-related overdose deaths involving opioids, primarily heroin or synthetic opioids. This also corresponds to the growing supply and use of heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl in the United States. Data on drug overdose deaths were collected from the CDC’s National Vital Statistics System.

These findings underscore the importance of public health strategies, such as broader access to naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses, including providing naloxone to people using cocaine, and expansion of  medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders.

For a copy of the paper — “Recent Increases in Cocaine-Related Overdose Deaths and the Role of Opioids”— published in the American Journal of Public Health, go to: http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/full/10.2105/AJPH.2016.303627.

For information about prescription opioid misuse and heroin use, go to: www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/relationship-between-prescription-drug-abuse-heroin-use/introduction.

For information about cocaine, go to: www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-cocaine.