High death rate among cocaine users

TWO hospital studies have revealed startling evidence of high death rates among cocaine users.

In a major review at the Mater Hospital in Dublin, researchers found that of 19 cocaine-related admissions to its intensive care unit (ICU) over a five-year period, 15 died (79%).

Some 10 died in hospital and a further five died after being discharged.

A second study at Tallaght Hospital found that of 10 people who died after being brought to hospital suffering from heart attacks caused by external factors – such as drugs and suicide – four were due to cocaine use.

The first study was carried out by researchers at the Mater ICU and examined 19 patients who were admitted to the unit with a diagnosis of cocaine toxicity between January 2003 and December 2007.

It found a “strongly increasing pattern” in such admissions over the years:

nFrom zero in 2003.

* Two in 2004.

* One in 2005.

* Six in 2006.

* 10 in 2007.

The average age was 25 and almost 80% were male. Three were in their teens, the youngest 17. It said most patients were “previously healthy”.

All bar one – a so-called “body packer”, smuggling drugs into the country – used cocaine for personal use.

Nine died in ICU and a tenth in another hospital ward.

Researchers said the hospital mortality rate was 60%, higher than that for heroin admissions (20%) and alcohol (25%).

In February 2009, researchers tried to trace the nine people who had been discharged. The body-packer had left the country and was untraceable, but researchers obtained data on eight others, five of whom had died in the intervening period.

“Thus only three of the original 19 were known to be alive at this time,” said the study, led by Sinead Galvin.

The research, published in the journal Anaesthesia, said that from the original admission data, 10 of the patients were thought to have only taken cocaine, while nine also took other substances.

The researchers said it was likely that those who died were inclined “to high risk and criminal behaviour”.

The report said the high level of cocaine deaths was unusual in a European context. It said a possible explanation was that “the adulterants used to cut cocaine in Ireland are significantly more toxic than elsewhere”.

A second report examined ten external deaths from heart attacks in people who were brought to Tallaght Hospital between 2006 and 2007. Drug misuse (all cocaine) were blamed for four deaths, suicide attempts for four, alcohol for one, and choking for one.


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