Home > From bumps to binges: overview of deaths associated with cocaine in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (2000-2019).

Rooney, Brian and Sobiecka, Pola and Rock, Kirsten and Copeland, Caroline (2023) From bumps to binges: overview of deaths associated with cocaine in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (2000-2019). Journal of Analytical Toxicology, 47, (3), pp. 207-215. https://doi.org/10.1093/jat/bkad002.

External website: https://academic.oup.com/jat/advance-article/doi/1...

BACKGROUND The UK, as the 'cocaine capital of Europe', currently accounts for ~75% of all cocaine-related hospital admissions in Europe. This study aims to analyse trends in cocaine-related deaths in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland over 20 years (2000-2019).

METHODS Cases reported to the National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths (NPSAD) occurring between 2000-2019 where cocaine was detected at post-mortem were extracted for analysis.

RESULTS 5,339 cases were retrieved, with an increase in the rate of reporting over time. Cocaine was deemed a cause of death and quantified in post-mortem blood samples along with its major metabolite benzoylecgonine in 685 cases. Of these 685 cases, 25% (n=170/685) occurred following acute use, 22% (n=154/685) following chronic/binge use, 40% (n=271/685) in combination with morphine, 4% (n=29/685) in drug packer/swallower circumstances, and 9% (n=61/685) in a suicide context. Cardiac complications were evident in 22% of cases (n=154/685). The average concentration of cocaine detected in cardiac cases (900ng/ml) was considerably lower than that detected in cases where acute (19,100ng/ml) or chronic/binge (6,200ng/ml) dosing was evident.

CONCLUSIONS This is the first cocaine-related mortality study in this geographical area. Deaths following cocaine use continue to rise despite its Class A drug listing in the UK. Whilst underlying and external risk factors including polydrug use, cardiac complications and mental health can all contribute to incidences of fatal drug toxicity following cocaine use, this study demonstrates that the risk of a cocaine overdose cannot be attributed to a specific blood concentration range.

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