Volume 34, Issue 1 (January 1989)
Analysis of Cocaine-Positive Fatalities
A review of all autopsy and toxicology reports for persons dying in New York City in an 11-month period found 935 persons dying with cocaine in their bodies. Cocaine-positive fatalities were more likely in the young black and Hispanic and male population. In addition to cocaine and its metabolites, heroin and other opiates were found in 39% of persons and ethanol in 33% and barbituates and minor tranquilizers in only 2% of the deceased. Cocaine overdose was responsible for 4% of the deaths and overdose with heroin and cocaine for 12% of the deaths. Violence was often the cause of death. Thirty-eight percent died of homicide, seven percent of suicide, and eight percent from accidents. Of particular interest were 6 persons who died of acute cardiac events directly related to cocaine as well as 4 cases of ruptured dissections of the ascending aorta, and 9 cases of cerebral hemorrhage. Autopsy findings for these individuals are described, and possible mechanisms of death are discussed.