Life or Death…?
Joann’s heart pounded and her hands trembled as she attempted to dial 9-1-1. Finally, the call went through and she choked out, “I need an ambulance. My son is unconscious…” Breathless, she tried to answer the operator’s questions.
“…I don’t know what happened. He’s really pale, and he’s been vomiting. Please hurry!”
In the 25 years Joann had been a mother, she never once pictured this moment. Would her son live? Jax was 22, hadn’t shown interest in college, preferred living with friends, worked at a tire company.
He hadn’t been returning her calls, and she finally just decided to knock on his door to get him to talk to her. No answer — so she used her key. And there he was on the living room floor…
She’d been worried. The silences were getting longer, the visits further apart, and he seemed defensive and edgy when he did come over. Despite his job, and rent split four ways, he basically only came over when he needed money.
Jax had been such a good boy. Loved to play with his friends. Recess was his favorite “subject” when he was little. (Big surprise!) He was easy — sat down and worked on his homework when he was reminded. Cleaned his room and helped with chores on Saturday. She’d never had problems with him like some moms did with their kids.
But he got quieter — sort of withdrawn — in high school…and the last couple years he was truly distant. She hadn’t wanted to label it, but there. She’d said it … at least to herself.
She wasn’t thrilled with the friends she’d met. She wanted him to have friends who put their best foot forward, worked full time, and saved money for the future. She never wanted to judge, but Jax’s friends in the last few years hadn’t seemed focused on building a future. They hadn’t seemed focused on anything. In fact, from the way they looked, she was surprised they even were allowed to work when they showed up at their jobs.
Was she just behind the times? Or was there reason for concern…?
When the paramedics arrived Jax had just stopped breathing. But they got an airway, got a tube in, and bagged him while they lifted his stretcher into the ambulance.
Crack Cocaine Use Destroys Lives
Her hands seemed welded to the steering wheel as she followed the ambulance in her car. What had happened? Is this how her middle child’s life would end? Where did she go wrong…??
Once at the hospital, the nurse directed her to wait in the waiting room while they worked to stabilize her son.
She paced. She cried. Then, she started texting her other children, Jax’s father, and her own mom.
What was taking so long…??
Then she heard her name called.
“Family of Jackson McKenna?”
“I’m his mom!”
“Mrs. McKenna, your son has overdosed. We believe it was cocaine. He vomited and aspirated. We’re doing all we can but he has a tough road ahead…”
Denial. “Not My Child!”
Cocaine…? No way!!! The word sounded like a foreign language to her. She had begun to worry that maybe he was drinking too much beer…maybe that would explain his distance…?
But cocaine??? They must be confusing Jax with another patient…
If you’ve had a family member who has used cocaine, you may have had the same thoughts Joanna did.
Cocaine Overdose Can Happen in ANY Family
Few people wake up one morning and say to themselves, “Today’s the day I’m going to try cocaine…” But it can still eek its way into the life of someone you love one without you realizing it.
For some, it starts with something like smoking cigarettes during adolescence, which eventually may be paired with beer, in under-age drinkers. That step can eventually seems boring, and it may escalate to harder alcohol … then down the road someone offers a “toke” on a joint. For some, marijuana doesn’t seem like a big deal if you call it weed.
In most cases, the person who becomes trapped in addiction has taken one small step after another small step…until they’ve reached levels of ever-increasing risk.
And once they realize they can no longer seem to stop… they’ve been taken captive and don’t really understand how they got there.
Ok, ok. So it’s true that not everyone who smokes as a teen goes on to get addicted to crack cocaine.
But most people who find themselves trapped in a cocaine use cycle started with little steps that seemed harmless…then one led to another.
So is it common?
Crack Cocaine Use – Not Even Children are Immune
You may be surprised to learn that cocaine and crack cocaine have been used by over 14% of all Americans from the age of 12 and up.
We can say it’s far too common. And what’s important is that you, if you have loved ones using cocaine or another addictive substance, are informed and tuned-in to the signs. Because it’s really easy, as a parent or grandparent, to take the subtle signs in stride if you’re not alert.
Cocaine and crack cocaine use account for over 40% of drug-related emergency department visits in the US. What’s more, nearly 5000 people died from a cocaine overdose in 2013 alone. Two years later that number rose to 6784. These figures don’t bode well for 2018.
You can easily google to get a full list of signs and symptoms of cocaine use in your loved ones. Things like a pale color, runny nose, irritability, dilated pupils, loss of good friends, questionable new friends, excitability, restless sleep … are signs that can point to cocaine use.
At the same time, remember that you don’t have the power to wrestle addiction away from someone who doesn’t want it to stop.
How Do I Prepare for Cocaine Addiction in My Family?
I’m sure Joann would give anything to have recognized the signs she missed with Jax.
With that said, the power of love is gargantuan.
And a person trapped in addiction becomes increasingly isolated socially. He lives for his next “hit”… but when he comes down from the high, he feels terrible.
Stepping up and loving him, showing interest and concern, can be a lifeline when he thinks he can’t go on… and eventually he’ll most likely land there.
Cocaine addiction can start out for fun, but deteriorates to a life of torment. The more he uses, the more he needs, the more he spends…then he resorts to selling or pawning what he can, then stealing…?
Since the concept of addiction treatment began, most recovery options for cocaine start with “cold turkey” withdrawal. This definitely falls under the category of “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…!” And it’s true that rehab and counseling programs are operating all over the country.
The fact is, some are helped. Many relapse. Numerous remedies have been tested for cocaine use treatment, in the search for something reliable. Meds, too. But nothing works consistently.
New Hope for Cocaine Addiction with IV Ketamine Treatment
But there is remarkable evidence emerging that ketamine treatment may become an option for cocaine use disorders.
There’s no question that cocaine is a powerful drug that causes overwhelming cravings in the person who is dependent on it. In fact, those cravings can take over the life of the one dependent on it…and wreak havoc in the lives of everyone he knows.
When a person uses cocaine repeatedly, it causes the reward center in his brain to be rewired abnormally.
And once that happens, his cravings can go on the rest of his life, even if he stops using the drug. Years after his last trip, the rewiring in his reward center remains the same. And the craving emerges with a vengeance. There are no medications that consistently change that.
The cornerstone of an effective treatment for crack cocaine use disorder will be to stop the craving.
And there’s hope.
Elias Dakwar and his team conducted a study to test the effectiveness of ketamine to treat cocaine use disorder. Working with 20 crack cocaine-addicted subjects who were actively using cocaine and had no interest in stopping, they hospitalized them for six days at a time on three different occasions.
On the fourth day of each hospitalized period, they gave each participant a dose of one of three different infusions. Only one of those was ketamine.
The day after each infusion, so Day 5, each participant was offered money, or crack cocaine, on 5 different occasions. The working hypothesis was that if you craved cocaine, you’d choose cocaine over money. But if the treatment had stopped the craving, you’d choose money.
Those who had received ketamine the day before chose cocaine only 1.6 times out of 5. But those who had received either of the two placebos chose cocaine 4.3 times out of 5. For crack cocaine use: IV ketamine infusions ends cravings.
So the participants who received ketamine treatment developed the motivation to stop, and had no craving 24 hours after the infusion. In fact, one subject didn’t use cocaine again for 2 weeks after just one infusion. Those who did not receive ketamine wanted cocaine. No question about it.
Crack Cocaine Use. Ketamine Treatment Can End Cravings
At Innovative Psychiatry, we don’t offer new patients just a single ketamine infusion because we know a short series of infusions helps the changes that we see with ketamine treatment last. But two weeks without cravings for someone with cocaine use disorder is a significant length of time after a single treatment.
We have promising, positive outcomes across a range of tough-to-crack conditions with IV ketamine treatment. We use IV ketamine specifically, because any other route is not precise enough to treat the brain safely.
If you love someone who loves cocaine, be aware. Be alert. And be informed.
The most effective means of achieving recovery for someone with cocaine use disorder is treatment that ends craving in the long term. That stops the relapses. That lets you put your life back together.
Ketamine treatment is proving itself to be an extraordinary treatment for depression, anxiety, social anxiety, depressive episodes in bipolar disorder, PTSD, and OCD. And there is exciting research investigating the promise of it emerging as a remarkable treatment for alcohol use disorder, cocaine use disorder, and opioid use disorder… There is so much more that we need to know. Thank goodness that research in the field is just exploding.
If someone you love is trapped in cocaine use disorder, call us. Help is just around the corner.
To the rebuilding of your best self,
Lori Calabrese, MD