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Cocaine Deaths

Cocaine deaths take place every day across the United States. Even first time users are prone to fatal consequences. Cocaine use can lead to medical complications such as disturbances in heart rhythm, heart attack, stroke, seizure, and headaches, abdominal pain, and nausea. Cocaine use has been linked to heart disease and has also been shown to trigger ventricular fibrillation (chaotic heart rhythms.) Cocaine accelerates an user's heart beat, accelerates breathing, increases blood pressure, and can increase body temperature. Sudden and unexpected cocaine deaths can occur with even experimental use. Cocaine deaths are often the result of cardiac arrest or seizures followed by respiratory failure.

When cocaine use is combined with alcohol, the user.s body converts the two into cocaethylene.  The result is a longer duration of effects in the brain that is more toxic than either drug used alone. This mixture yields more drug related deaths than any other combination of drugs.

Long term use of cocaine can result in a range of mental health conditions from mild depression to the extremes of cocaine psychosis with symptoms similar to schizophrenia. Death from cocaine overdose is all too common. In the United States, cocaine deaths are implicated in 10 out of every 1000 deaths in hospital emergency units.

Palm Beach County leads state in cocaine deaths
-Palm Beach Post

Cocaine claimed more lives in Palm Beach County last year than any other county in the state, surpassing "Cocaine Capital" Miami-Dade County.

That's according to statistics released Tuesday on drug-related deaths reported by state medical examiners in 2005, which also show the county leading the state in overdoses caused by several prescription drugs.

The numbers show that cocaine remains the deadliest drug in the region and state, linked to a record 197 deaths in Palm Beach County and a record 58 deaths in the Treasure Coast region, which includes Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee counties.

Eighty-five of the Palm Beach County deaths were caused directly by cocaine overdose; the rest were deaths in which cocaine was found in the victim's system. On the Treasure Coast, 28 of the overall deaths were caused by cocaine overdose.

The Palm Beach Post reported on the startling trend earlier this month, showing how Palm Beach County has the highest rate of cocaine-related deaths per 100,000 people in South Florida and that the rates were rising most in rural regions, including Okeechobee.

The data released by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show other growing trends:

. Palm Beach County leads the state in methadone and morphine overdoses. Both drugs are commonly prescribed painkillers.

. Palm Beach and Broward counties lead the state in overdoses linked to oxycodone and to alprazolam. Oxycodone is the main ingredient in the painkiller OxyContin, and alprazolam is an anti-anxiety drug that also goes by the brand name Xanax.

. Methadone, which is the second-deadliest drug in the state behind cocaine, continues to claim more teen lives than any other drug, with 13 overdoses among people younger than 18 reported in 2005. In 2004, the drug was linked to 16 overdoses in the same age group, two of which were in Palm Beach County. One was in Port St. Lucie: 16-year-old Richard Dargan died Aug. 10, 2005.

His mother, Barbara, and sister, Kristen, spoke through their tears and pain shortly after his death to deliver a message.

"Parents need to lock up their meds," Barbara Dargan said at the time. "I don't want anyone to have to go through this."

Families who lost loved ones to cocaine addiction also have spoken out recently about the deadly lure of the drug, which continues to ravage inner-city areas but also is gaining a lethal foothold in suburban and rural areas across the region and state.

Some of the people who overdosed on powder or crack cocaine in Palm Beach County last year were suburbanites who left their homes to live in drug-infested neighborhoods.

One of them was Jaime Luff, who was 27 when she died in January 2005, just months after a visit to a hospital emergency room alarmed her enough to go back to her family and stop smoking crack.

"We always called drugs 'the monkey on your back,' " said her mother, Tina Fife. "The monkey will lie to you and tell you this is the last time."

What was supposed to be one of those "last times" turned fatal for Luff and the nearly 3,000 others who have overdosed on cocaine from 2000 to 2005, according to FDLE statistics. Toxicology tests can't tell the difference between powder and crack cocaine, so it remains unclear which one is linked to the most deaths.

Some local law-enforcement officials had yet to see the latest drug-related death figures Tuesday and said they could not comment on them.

FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey said in a release: "Cocaine continues to be a lethal threat to our communities as it has continued to increase over the past five years."

The state's new drug chief, Bill Janes, could not be reached for comment Tuesday but in a release said he will push for a statewide prescription tracking system to help combat "doctor shopping," in which someone visits several doctors to rack up prescriptions for addictive painkillers.

"These drugs are too prevalent and largely uncontrolled," Janes said. "We will also continue to seek legislation to control prescription drugs in Florida."