How dangerous is cocaine?

New statistics show that UK deaths from the drug are at record high

cocaine, drugs, drug abuse
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A total of 432 people in the UK died as a result of cocaine use last year - more than triple the number of deaths from the drug just five years earlier, newly released figures show.

According to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), there were 371 cocaine deaths in 2016, and 139 in 2012. The steady increase follows a brief drop in cocaine deaths in the late 2000s.

Experts say that “people from all levels of society are being destroyed by the substance”, The Times reports, and that a notable increase in usage has been seen in wealthier households.

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Security Minister Ben Wallace warned in May that the UK was “fast becoming the biggest consumer of cocaine in Europe”.

Campaigners say the drug, listed as a Class A substance in Britain, is becoming easier to procure and increasingly pure, which results in a more powerful effect on the user.

Niall Campbell, an addiction specialist at London’s Priory Hospital, said: “The ease with which people can obtain cocaine, especially in the capital, is frightening. It’s fuelled by social media and access to the unregulated internet.”

The BBC reports that the drug death rate in England and Wales is 66.1 per million people - “more than three times the rate for the EU, Turkey and Norway”.

Drug deaths also hit a record high in Scotland last 2017 and were the worst in Europe.

So how dangerous is cocaine?

Cocaine comes in a number of forms, including powder, freebase and crack, all of which are extremely powerful stimulants.

Short-term physiological effects of cocaine use include constricted blood vessels, dilated pupils, increased body temperature, high heart rate and a spike in blood pressure, according to the US National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The NHS website says that the drug can overstimulate “the heart and nervous system, which can lead to a heart attack”. This risk is increased if the user has also ingested alcohol.

“Taking cocaine is particularly risky if you have high blood pressure or already have a heart condition,” the site adds. “If you’re pregnant, cocaine can harm your baby and even cause miscarriage. If you’ve had previous mental health problems, it can increase the chance of these returning.”

Drug awareness website Talk To Frank says that users can also get “overconfident, arrogant and aggressive and end up taking very careless risks”, increasing their chances of injury.

In addition, repeatedly snorting cocaine may seriously damage the cartilage in the user’s nose.

But experts say injecting cocaine is even more dangerous, as it is harder to judge the dose and small fluctuations in purity can cause drastically different results.

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