Australia Today

Cocaine-Related Deaths Are on the Rise in Australia

"The amount of cocaine produced in the last year or two is the most that's ever been produced. When you get more of any drug, you will get more harm."
cocaine deaths rising

Cocaine-related deaths are on the rise in Australia, according to a new study from the University of NSW’s National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre. The study, which looked at data from 2000-2021, found 884 deaths related to cocaine in the last 21 years – with 398 of those occurring in the last five years. 

“What’s reflected is a 20% increase each year from 2012 onwards,” head author and leading expert on the morbidity and mortality associated with illicit drug use, Professor Shane Drake, told VICE.


“The amount of cocaine produced in the last year or two is the most that's ever been produced. And what we've seen in this country is an increase in reported use, an increase in seizures, an increase in people seeking treatment and emergency services.”

“What this suggests is that there's more cocaine and when you get more of any drug, you will get more harm.”

According to Drake, cocaine deaths 20 years ago were usually connected to people with a longstanding history of drug-related problems. Now, over half of these deaths are users with no known history of problematic drug use. 

“We found clinically significant changes in case profiles across the study period that suggest a broadening of those who use cocaine and its associated harm,” Drake said.

“There's 884 people we know and we were conservative in that. You have to remember that people can use cocaine for a long time, and have serious heart damage, then stop using cocaine. They might die of that heart disease five years later, but that wouldn't be picked up.”

According to the results, the majority of cocaine-related deaths were due to unintentional drug toxicity (70 percent), and usually involved a cardiovascular event. Others included intentional self-harm (18 percent) and incidents that involved motor vehicles (12 percent). 


In 93 percent of cases, other drugs were involved – with alcohol present in close to half.

“With drug related deaths, what you get is a combination of drugs that kill people. Alcohol actually intensifies the effects of cocaine,” said Drake.

“So when you look at any death, what you’d be looking at it, in most cases, is the combination of effects. But all of these people showed signs that were typical of cocaine toxicity.”

According to Drake, the perception of coke as a safer alternative to drugs like crystal methamphetamine has also contributed to its rise in popularity.

“But I don't want to give the impression that everyone who uses cocaine is going to die of cocaine,” he said. “I think what we need to get across is that cocaine has an image sometimes of being a reasonably “benign, fluffy” drug. And it's not. It can kill and it does kill.”

Follow Julie Fenwick on Twitter and Instagram.

Read more from VICE Australia and subscribe to our weekly newsletter, This Week Online.