Fentanyl-Laced Cocaine – A Dangerous Compounded Addiction

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Fentanyl-Laced Cocaine – A Dangerous Compounded Addiction

Fentanyl has been one of the primary drivers of the national uptick in opioid overdoses for the past ten years. A powerful synthetic drug that is one-hundred times more potent than morphine, fentanyl has proven to be one of the deadliest and most addictive of all opioids. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that fentanyl-related deaths have increased over 500 percent over the past three years and have been directly responsible for the rising overdose body count year after year. One of the increasingly common ways that fentanyl has found its way into the hands and bloodstreams of recreational users is through its presence in other drugs like methamphetamine and fentanyl-laced cocaine.

The Scope of the Fentanyl-Laced Cocaine Problem

Fentanyl-laced cocaine is threatening the lives of more and more Americans, including the CDC chief Robert Redfield. Data from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) indicates that 7 percent of all cocaine seized at the New England border contained fentanyl, and that in Connecticut, where the problem is particularly severe, fentanyl-laced cocaine deaths have increased 420 percent over three years. Across the country, there were over 4,200 overdose deaths from fentanyl-laced cocaine, according to data from the CDC. According to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), synthetic opioids (primarily illegal fentanyl) passed prescription opioids as the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths in the United States in 2016. These drugs were involved in over half (19,413) of all deaths that year.

How Are Cocaine and Fentanyl Coming Together?

Fentanyl is finding its way into cocaine and other illicit drugs primarily through efforts of cartels looking to gain market share, and from careless street-level dealers who are unintentionally mixing the drugs during packaging. The DEA’s 2017 National Threat Assessment says that adding fentanyl to cocaine is typically for the purpose of “speedballing,” which combines the rush of a stimulant, often cocaine, with a drug that depresses the nervous system, such as heroin. Law enforcement, legislators, clinicians, and other stakeholders have collectively voiced concern that fentanyl-laced cocaine could be the next major drug epidemic to make its way through the United States.

A Compounded Addiction

Fentanyl-laced cocaine presents two distinct sets of physical and psychological health risks that are compounded by the co-occurring use of opioids and stimulants; this is why the likelihood of overdose is significantly increased with this specific drug combination. Treatment for those abusing fentanyl-laced cocaine must include interventions that address the medical risks of both substance use profiles. Users should undergo a thorough and comprehensive course of medical detox to safely manage the specific and potentially serious withdrawal symptoms that can come from purging the system of these drugs.

Some of these withdrawal symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Breathing issues
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Changes in body temperature
  • Extreme muscle and joint pain
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Seizures and convulsions
  • Coma
  • Accelerated heart rate

These symptoms should be managed by a medical professional who is trained in addiction medicine. Users who endeavor to detox from fentanyl-laced cocaine on their own after the body develops tolerance run the risk of relapse and subsequent overdose. One of the most dangerous things about this drug is that stimulant effects of the cocaine are often masked or mitigated by the suppressing effects of the fentanyl, which means patients have to take more of it to feel the desired effects. This increased quantity can more quickly lead to overdose. Another dangerous behavioral factor associated with fentanyl-laced cocaine is that users very often don’t even realize their cocaine contains fentanyl at all; this leaves them even more vulnerable to overdose.

A Ticking Clock

Abuse of fentanyl-laced cocaine is, perhaps more than most substances, a time-sensitive issue. Treatment must be deployed immediately to help users protect themselves from the very real possibility of fatal overdose. In some cases, maintenance medications like buprenorphine, methadone, and extended-release naltrexone can help users manage cravings and mitigate withdrawal symptoms. It’s important to realize that overdose can occur after only a few cycles of use, so it’s imperative that patients seek the necessary withdrawal management and behavioral rehab so they can overcome their substance abuse and move on with their lives. If you or someone you care about is battling addiction to fentanyl-laced cocaine, get help now, before it’s too late.


  • cdc.gov – Provisional Drug Overdose Death Counts
  • livescience.com – CDC Chief Says Son Nearly Died from Cocaine Laced with Fentanyl
  • drugabuse.gov – Fentanyl and Other Synthetic Opioids Drug Overdose Deaths
  • mass.gov – Data Brief: Opioid-Related Overdose Deaths Among Massachusetts Residents

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