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Not Yesterday’s Cocaine: Death Toll Rising From Tainted Drug

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  • Not Yesterday’s Cocaine: Death Toll Rising From Tainted Drug


    Not Yesterday’s Cocaine: Death Toll Rising From Tainted Drug
    By Laura Ungar
    November 25, 2019

    CINCINNATI — A pain pill prescription for nerve damage revived Gwendolyn Barton’s long-dormant addiction last year, awakening fears she would slip back into smoking crack cocaine.

    She’d done that drug and others for about 20 years before getting sober in 2008. But things were different back then. This time, the 62-year-old knew she needed to seek treatment before it was too late.

    “If I used today,” she said, “I’d be dead.”

    The powerful opioid fentanyl is often mixed into cocaine, turning the stimulant into a much bigger killer than the drug of the past. Cocaine-related overdoses took the lives of nearly 14,000 Americans in 2017, up 34% in just a year, the latest federal figures show. And they’re expected to soar even higher as cocaine’s popularity resurges.

    Barton, who is African American, is wise to be wary. Deaths are rising most precipitously among African Americans, who are more likely to use cocaine than whites and fatally overdosed at an 80% higher rate.

    But the scourge is festering quietly, overshadowed by the larger opioid epidemic that kills tens of thousands each year, the vast majority of them white.

    More than 30 states have seen cocaine death rates rise since 2010, with Ohio leading the way. Overdoses from crack and powder cocaine killed 14 of every 100,000 Ohioans of all races in 2017 — seven times more than in 2010, according to the University of Minnesota’s State Health Access Data Assistance Center...