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Illicit Drugs

Illicit drugs, often referred to as illegal or prohibited substances, can profoundly alter brain chemistry and behavior. These substances encompass a diverse range, from stimulants like cocaine that elevate mood and energy, to depressants like heroin that induce a state of euphoric relaxation.

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Click the graphic to check out the 2020 Regional Priority Report for Southwestern CT for detailed profiles on illicit substances in our region.  

Illicit Drug Facts
Illicit Drug Facts

Did You Know...?

  • Illicit opioids and stimulants were the main causes of drug overdose deaths in Connecticut in 2022.

  •  "Polypharmacy"--the use of multiple drugs, usually including alcohol, at one time--is particularly dangerous. 92% overdose deaths in Southwestern CT involved multiple drugs.

  • Cocaine use remains flat at about 2% of the population. 

  • ​​Our region is in a "High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area" (HIDTA) due to drug corridors. 

  • As of the 1st week of March there were 210 deaths for 2023, with 104 in January, and 94 in February. Approximately 81.8% of these deaths involved fentanyl. 

Cocaine
Cocaine

Cocaine is a powerful and addictive stimulant drug derived from the leaves of the coca plant, which is native to South America. It is often abused as a street drug for its euphoric effects and can lead to serious health consequences. Cocaine looks like a fine, white, crystal powder, and dealers often mix it with talcum powder, cornstarch or flour to increase profits. It can also be processed to make a rock crystal that can be smoked, known as Crack. Cocaine is increasingly being mixed with other illicit drugs such as amphetamines, fentanyl, and xylazine, resulting in increased danger for overdose leading to death.

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Click the graphic to learn more about cocaine in Southwestern CT

Short Term Effects of Cocaine on the Body

Cocaine increases the amount of dopamine in the brain. It prevents dopamine from being recycled and causes it to build up between nerve cells, reinforcing drug-taking behavior. Over time, the brain's reward circuit may adapt, becoming less sensitive to the drug and leading people to take stronger and more frequent doses. Short-term effects of cocaine use include:

  • Feelings of euphoria and happiness

  • Increased energy and alertness

  • Reduced appetite

 

Cocaine’s effects can appear within minutes of use and last as long as an hour. How long the effects last depends on the method of use. The immediate effects are short-lived and can be followed by negative side effects such as: 

  • Anxiety

  • Paranoia

  • Irritability

  • Unpredictable or even violent behavior

  • Increased blood pressure and body temperature

  • Fast or Irregular heartbeat

  • Nausea

  • Tremors or muscle twitches

  • Constricted blood vessels

  • Heart attacks 

  • Seizures

Prevalence of Cocaine

In 2020, an estimated 1.5 million people in the United States aged 12 or older had used cocaine in the past month. Though reports indicate that national cocaine use has declined in recent years, it continues to remain a significant public health concern as it is increasingly being found in overdose deaths. In 2021, approximately 24,486 people died from an overdose involving cocaine. 

 

In Connecticut, cocaine remains a major public health issue. In 2020, the number of overdose deaths involving cocaine increased by 10.5% from the previous year, with 377 deaths reported. In terms of demographics, cocaine-involved overdose deaths are more likely to occur among males than females, and among individuals ages 30-59. The use of cocaine is often intertwined with other substances with 78% of cocaine-involved overdose deaths in 2020 occurring with at least one other drug.

Dangers of Long-Term Cocaine Use

The dangers of cocaine use include addiction, which can lead to changes in brain function, behavior, and cognition. Long-term use can also result in a number of health problems, including: 

  • Cardiovascular disease 

  • Respiratory problems 

  • Gastrointestinal problems

  • Decreased cognitive abilities

  • Memory Loss

  • Difficulties with decision-making and impulse control

 

Long-term effects of cocaine use can be severe and may include changes in brain structure and function. Chronic cocaine use can also increase the risk of stroke, seizures, and other neurological problems. In addition, cocaine use during pregnancy can harm the developing fetus and can result in premature birth, low birth weight, and other complications.

 

Cocaine use can be highly dangerous and can have serious health consequences, including increased risk of addiction and death by overdose. If you or someone you know is struggling with cocaine use, it is important to seek help as soon as possible.

Heroin

Heroin is a highly addictive opioid drug that is derived from morphine, which is extracted from the seed pod of the opium poppy plant. It is typically sold as a white or brown powder or as a sticky black substance, and it is often mixed with other substances like cocaine. Heroin can be deadly. Users are vulnerable to higher tolerances with repeated use, increased rates of addiction and substance use disorder, and overdose deaths. The fast rising number of overdose deaths caused by heroin and other opioids has led to a national declaration for the opioid crisis as a public health emergency.

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Click the graphic to learn more about heroin & other illicit drugs in Southwestern CT

Short Term Effects of Heroin on the Body

Heroin binds to opioid receptors in the brain, particularly in the parts of the brain that control feelings of pleasure and pain, ​​and in controlling heart rate, sleeping, and breathing. Short-term effects of heroin use include: 

  • A rush of euphoria

  • Warm flushing of the skin

  • Dry mouth

  • Heavy feeling in the arms and legs

 

Other, more negative side effects include:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting

  • Severe itching 

  • “Nodding off” - back-and-forth state of being conscious and semi-conscious

  • Respiratory depression (which can be life-threatening)

Prevalence of Heroin

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), national heroin use has increased in recent years, particularly among young adults ages 18-25. 808,000 people aged 12 or older  used heroin in the past year. The number of heroin-involved overdose deaths was nearly seven times higher in 2020 than in 1999, and nearly 20% of all opioid deaths involved heroin.

 

In Connecticut, the number of heroin-involved overdose deaths decreased by 6.7% in 2020, with 563 deaths reported. Heroin-involved overdose deaths are more likely to occur among males, and among individuals ages 30-49. Heroin is often taken with other substances, such as alcohol or opioids. 86% of all Connecticut heroin-involved overdose deaths in 2020 involved at least one other drug.

Dangers of Long-Term Heroin Use

The dangers of long-term heroin use can be severe and may include addiction, which can lead to changes in brain function, behavior, and cognition. Chronic heroin use can cause a variety of physical and mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Heroin frequently contains additives, such as sugar, starch, or powdered milk, that can clog blood vessels and impede the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain, inducing long-term damage. Sharing needles with someone else and having impaired judgment after heroin use can have a negative impact on the risk of developing infectious diseases. 

 

Heroin use can lead to addiction, which can cause changes in brain function, behavior, and cognition. Long-term use can also result in a number of health problems, including:

  • Infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis (for users who inject)

  • Heart disease 

  • Liver disease

  • Collapsed veins(for users who inject)

  • Insomnia

  • Constipation and stomach cramping

  • Sexual dysfunction in men

  • Irregular menstrual cycles for women

  • Abscesses

  • Memory Loss

  • Damaged nose tissue (for users who snort)

  • Coma and permanent brain damage (for users who experience overdose)

 

Heroin use during pregnancy can also harm the developing fetus. It can also result in premature birth, low birth weight, and other complications. Heroin use can be extremely risky and lead to severe health repercussions, including addiction and overdose death. If you or someone you know is struggling with heroin use, it is important to seek professional help as soon as possible. Effective treatments are available and can help individuals recover and lead fulfilling lives.

Overdose Treatment and Prevention

Naloxone 

Naloxone is a medication that can quickly treat opioid overdose by binding to opioid receptors and blocking the effects of drugs such as heroin. It is available in injectable and nasal spray forms, with multiple doses sometimes necessary. Due to the rising number of opioid overdose deaths, there have been increased efforts to make naloxone accessible to those at risk and their families. Naloxone has recently been approved by the FDA for over-the-counter distribution in Connecticut. It's already been spotted in some stores across the state. 

Fentanyl Test Strips 

Fentanyl is increasingly being mixed with other illicit drugs,  like heroin and cocaine. This has led to a spike in overdoses and overdose deaths across the state. New harm reduction strategies recommend using fentanyl test strips as a way to test for the presence of fentanyl in drugs before use. Fentanyl test strips (‘FTS’) are a form of inexpensive drug testing technology. They are an accurate and highly reliable way to prevent overdose deaths and save lives. The Connecticut Department of Public Health (CT DPH) supports access to FTS. To find CT locations distributing FTS and providing training on use, use the 2-1-1 Connecticut search option. 

 

 

Questions regarding the distribution of FTS in Connecticut should be directed to:

Ramon Rodriguez-Santana, MBA, MPH

CT DPH Drug User Health Coordinator

(860) 509-7849

ramon.rodriguez-santana@ct.gov

Click the graphic to register for one of our Free Naloxone Virtual Trainings, happening every first and third Wednesday of the month. 

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Click the graphic to learn more about NORA, a free app from the Connecticut Department of Public Health. Use NORA to prevent, treat, and report opioid overdose.

Illicitly Manufactured Prescription Drugs (IMPDs)

Illicitly manufactured prescription drugs (IMPDs), also known as counterfeit drugs, are fake prescription drugs that are made to look like legitimate medications such as OxyContin, Xanax, and Adderall. These drugs are often sold illegally on the black market and can contain dangerous substances that are not regulated or monitored by the FDA. The average person can't usually tell the difference between a real pill and a fake pill. Fake pills have become an increasing risk for teens and young adults through misuse of prescription drugs that have become more readily available for purchase online or via social media. 

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Click the graphic to learn more about the dangers of Fake RX Drugs from You Think You know

Short Term Effects of IMPDs on the Body

Short-term effects of IMPDs can vary depending on the drug, but they can include feelings of euphoria, sedation, and increased energy. However, these effects can be followed by negative side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. In addition, these drugs can be extremely dangerous because they often contain unknown and potentially lethal substances, such as fentanyl, which increase risk of overdose.

Illicit drug manufacturers are adding fentanyl to their products to boost the drugs' potency, with the drug being sold as powders, nasal sprays, and increasingly pressed into pills resembling prescription opioids. Since there is no regulatory oversight, these counterfeit pills often contain lethal doses of fentanyl, with none of the promised drug, presenting a significant danger to users.

"Party Drugs"
(Ecstacy, Molly, Bath Salts, Special K, K2)

Ecstasy (MDMA):

  • A synthetic drug known for its stimulant and empathogenic effects.

  • Commonly used at parties and clubs.

  • Can induce feelings of euphoria, increased energy, and emotional openness.

  • Risks include dehydration, overheating, and potential long-term neurological effects.

 

Molly (MDMA):

  • Often used as a street name for pure MDMA.

  • Similar effects to ecstasy, including enhanced sensory perception and emotional empathy.

  • Quality and safety can vary widely, as Molly may be adulterated with other substances.

 

Bath Salts (Synthetic Cathinones):

  • A group of synthetic drugs that can have stimulant and hallucinogenic effects.

  • Can cause intense agitation, paranoia, and hallucinations.

  • Associated with dangerous behavior and adverse health effects.

 

Special K (Ketamine):

  • Originally developed as an anesthetic.

  • At lower doses, can induce a trance-like state, dissociation, and altered perception.

  • Misuse can lead to disorientation, loss of coordination, and hallucinations.

  • Used recreationally in party settings but carries risks.

K2 (Synthetic Cannabinoids):

  • Also known as "Spice" or "Synthetic Marijuana."

  • Synthetic chemicals sprayed onto plant material to mimic the effects of THC (the active compound in marijuana).

  • Highly unpredictable and often more potent than natural marijuana.

  • Associated with a range of adverse effects, including anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, and even severe health complications.

Methamphetamines (Meth)

Methamphetamine, also known as meth, is a highly addictive stimulant drug that affects the central nervous system. It is usually sold as a crystalline powder or as a pill and can be smoked, snorted, injected, or taken orally. It shares a chemical resemblance with amphetamine, a medication utilized to address narcolepsy and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Short Term Effects of Methamphetamines on the Body

Heroin
Fake RX Pills
Meth

Methamphetamine boosts dopamine levels in the brain, which affects motivation, movement, and pleasure-seeking behavior. The drug's ability to cause a surge of dopamine in reward areas of the brain leads to addiction and cravings for repeated use.

Short-term effects of methamphetamine use include:

  • Feelings of euphoria

  • Increased energy

  • Decreased appetite

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure

  • Faster breathing

 

These effects can be followed by negative side effects such as: 

  • Anxiety

  • Paranoia

  • Hallucinations

  • Aggression

  • Stroke

  • Heart attack

  • Seizures

Prevalence of Methamphetamines

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), methamphetamine use has been on the rise in recent years, particularly in certain regions of the United States. In 2020, an estimated 1.6 million people in the United States aged 12 or older had used methamphetamine in the past year. Methamphetamine-involved overdose deaths have increased by more than seven-fold from 2011 to 2019, with 13,820 drug overdose deaths involving it reported in the United States in 2020. Additionally, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that in 2020, methamphetamine was the third most common substance involved in drug overdose deaths after synthetic opioids and cocaine.

 

The DEA reports that methamphetamine is a serious drug threat in the United States and is commonly trafficked into the country from Mexico. The production and trafficking of methamphetamine have also been associated with violent crime and other criminal activities. 

Dangers of Long-Term Methamphetamine Use

Long-term methamphetamine use can lead to changes in the dopamine system and affect areas of the brain responsible for emotion and memory, with some changes possibly irreversible even after discontinuing the drug. There is also an increased risk of developing Parkinson's disease. Recent overdoses have involved opioids such as fentanyl that are either knowingly consumed or added without the user's knowledge.

 

The dangers of methamphetamine use include addiction, which can lead to changes in brain function, behavior, and cognition. Long-term use can also result in a number of health problems, including:

  • Severe dental problems

  • Skin sores caused by intense itching

  • Weight loss

  • Confusion

  • Memory Loss

  • Sleep Issues

  • Violent Behavior

 

Methamphetamine use during pregnancy can also harm the developing fetus. It can increase the risk of premature birth, low birth weight, and placental abruption. It can also cause developmental problems and behavioral issues in children exposed to the drug in the womb.

 

Methamphetamine use can be extremely dangerous and result in serious health consequences. If you or someone you know is struggling with methamphetamine use, it is important to seek professional help as soon as possible. Effective recovery options are available and can help individuals recover and lead fulfilling lives.

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