Acute cocaine toxicity: assessment and cardiac risk


The UK has the highest prevalence of drug use within Europe, with a 13% increase in cocaine and ecstasy related deaths reported between 2004 and 2005. This is significant to emergency medical personnel because cocaine toxicity can present clinically as acute coronary syndrome (ACS) minus typical associated risk factors. Cocaine use has an immediate effect on the body, having an onset of action seconds to minutes after administration. The resultant effect is manyfold, but can be divided into the two broad categories of central nervous system and cardiovascular effects. Cocaine misuse is a trigger of ACS, acute myocardial infarction and sudden death in a population of patients largely free of classic cardiovascular risk factors. Emergency medical staff are in a position to provide early and effective management through history-taking and assessment tools in conjunction with therapeutic intervention. The aim of this article is to highlight the presentation and consequence of acute cocaine toxicity in relation to its assessment, management and cardiac emergencies within the prehospital setting.

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