More cocaine overdoses in warmer weather

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When the weather gets nicer, frequency of cocaine-related deaths tends to go up, according to a study published last week in the journal Addiction. By comparing New York City mortality data from 1990 through 2006 with average temperature information for the region from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, researchers found that more people died of cocaine overdose when temperatures rose past 75ºF (24ºC) than when it was cooler out.

Previous research had indicated that an increase in cocaine-related deaths corresponded to much higher temperatures—over 88ºF (31ºC)—yet this latest research suggests that the increased risk for cocaine overdose begins in more mild weather. The reason that temperature factors into overdose risk, the authors say, is that cocaine decreases the body’s ability to regulate temperature—both increasing core body heat and minimizing the ability to cool the body through normal cardiovascular regulation processes. What’s more, cocaine reduces the sense of discomfort caused by overheating. When it’s warmer out, and the body’s temperature is higher to begin with, cocaine users can become hyperthermic more quickly—and after ingesting smaller amounts of the narcotic.

According to the study, when temperatures ranged between 14ºF (-10ºC) and 75ºF (24ºC), there was no statistical difference in the number of cocaine-related deaths. Yet, when the temperature rose past 75ºF (24ºC), the cocaine overdose rate increased by .25 per million people each week—an uptick that, in a city of more than eight million people equates to about two more cocaine-related deaths each week.

The researchers say that these recent findings point to a need to target high-risk groups and generally increase public health and education efforts about the dangers of cocaine use—at any time, but especially during warmer weather.

Learn more about the risks associated with cocaine and crack cocaine use—which include everything from heart attack, stroke and seizure to chronic runny nose, severe paranoia and risk of exposure to HIV and other blood-borne diseases for those who inject the drug in liquid form—from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.