A member of Bolivia’s Special Anti-Drug Trafficking Force (Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra el Narcotrafico, or FELCN), watches over a pile of coca leaves to be destroyed in Cochabamba, Bolivia. (Photographer: Zacarias Garcia/Bloomberg News)

Cocaine Deaths Hit Record in U.S. as Opioid Overdoses Level Off

(Bloomberg) -- While the opioid epidemic keeps claiming the lives of Americans, deaths from another drug are picking up.

In the 12 months through March, overdose deaths from cocaine rose 22 percent from a year earlier to 14,205, according to data last week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, 46,655 people died from opioid overdoses in the same period, down 2.7 percent from the peak of 47,944 in 2017.

The figures might be a sign that the opioid epidemic is in its later stages, according to Daniel Ciccarone, a professor at the University of California at San Francisco. “We could interpret this as good news because the heroin cycle could be peaking or waning,” he said.

While cocaine mortality has increased, opioids could still be the culprit behind the scenes. There’s been a rise in users knowingly or unknowingly ingesting cocaine laced with other drugs -- synthetic opioids in particular -- and the National Institute on Drug Abuse says the phenomenon is at least partly to blame for the recent rise of cocaine-user deaths.

Cocaine Deaths Hit Record in U.S. as Opioid Overdoses Level Off

Historically, epidemics of sedative drugs such as opioids are followed by a rise in the use of stimulants such as methamphetamine and cocaine, Ciccarone said. “As people’s heroin habits deepen and they grow increasingly tolerant, cocaine comes in as a booster -- the speedball.”

President Donald Trump declared opioid addiction and death a public health emergency last year, as more than 100 people on average were dying each day from abuses of the drug. In 2016, an estimated 2.2 million people in the U.S. reported receiving treatment in the past year to reduce or stop illicit drug use, including prescription drug misuse, or for medical problems associated with illicit drug use. The health problem extends into the broader economy as states, particularly in the Midwest, grapple with addiction and fallout that keeps people out of the workforce and school.

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