Volume 32, Issue 1 (January 1987)
Cocaine and Sudden “Natural” Death
The cardiovascular effects of cocaine may culminate in clinical episodes of angina pectoris, myocardial infarction, arrhythmias, and intracranial hemorrhage. To clarify whether or not cocaine causes fatalities by these mechanisms, we studied 24 cases of sudden, apparently natural deaths as a result of coronary arteriosclerosis (15 cases). hypertensive cardiovascular disease (4 cases), and intracranial hemorrhage (5 cases) associated with cocaine use. In 11 cases, cocaine was found in the blood (average concentration: 0.57 mg/L, range: 0.05 to 1.45 mg/L), whereas in the remainder, cocaine or its major metabolite was found in the urine or other tissues. In the majority of decedents, autopsy disclosed the existence of severe natural disease which could have been exacerbated by the administration of stimulant drugs, including cocaine. These data, and a review of the current medical literature, indicate that cocaine may precipitate the sudden death of an individual with undiagnosed cardiovascular disease. A contributory role of cocaine should be considered in any apparently natural death occurring in a population where cocaine abuse is prevalent.