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Rising numbers indicate looming cocaine epidemic

Researchers at the University of Florida have reported that the rise in the numbers of cocaine users is likely to lead to an epidemic. Cocaine known as the champagne of// drugs is responsible for the deaths of "Saturday Night Live" comedian John Belushi and basketball star Len Bias in the 1980s, after which there was a decrease in its use in the 1990s.

Now new data from UF and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show that since 2000 cocaine has increasingly been cited as the cause of death in coroner's reports, and that the number of cocaine deaths per 100,000 people in the state has nearly doubled in the past five years, from 150 in 2000 to nearly 300 in 2005. The steepest per capita rise in death rates was in college towns and wealthy, upper-class seaside communities, such as Melbourne, West Palm Beach and the Florida Keys.

What's happening in Florida is likely occurring coast to coast, says Mark Gold, M.D., a distinguished professor of psychiatry, neuroscience, anesthesiology and community health and family medicine at UF's College of Medicine. Gold and colleagues analyzed FDLE data gathered in Florida and presented their findings Oct. 15 at the Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting in Atlanta.

"Our data is closest to real time to any data available in the United States," Gold said. "With death reports, there is no fudge factor. The other states will show the same thing: That we are in the early stages of a new cocaine epidemic that is being led by the rich and famous and students with large amounts of disposable income and that is responsible for more emergency room visits and more cocaine-related deaths than we have seen at any time since the last cocaine epidemic."

Prescription drugs, often abused for the immediate rush of euphoria they trigger, can cause sudden respiratory or cardiac arrest. In contrast, cocaine's cumulative effects - including blood vessel damage that increases the risk of heart attack or
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