The combination of heroin and cocaine is referred to as a speedball. Since both drugs have different effects on the body, people take them together hoping they will balance each other out. However, this can pose the risk of far more serious health consequences.
When heroin and cocaine are combined, the potential for fatal overdose is heightened.
When someone is abusing speedballs, there are usually clear signs of abuse. Physical signs of drug abuse may range in severity depending on the extent of abuse.
There are also behavioral signs that may indicate drug abuse.
Cocaine is a stimulant, and heroin is a depressant. Heroin binds to opioid receptors after being converted into morphine.
People primarily abuse heroin for the euphoria it causes. When combined with cocaine, that euphoric rush can be more intense.
Other effects of heroin can be negative.
As a stimulant, cocaine provides the “speed” element of a speedball. The initial effects of cocaine can be felt quickly
The effects of cocaine do not last as long as heroin. When someone initially takes a speedball, their respiratory rate may be mostly normal since both drugs are working together.
Once the cocaine wears off, it is possible for breathing to get to a potentially life-threatening level since only the heroin will be acting on the body. Most fatal opioid overdoses are the result of depressed breathing.
Mixing two different substances always increase the risk of overdose. When someone experiences a fatal overdose, it is common for them to have used more than one drug.
A speedball can increase the risk of overdose for several reasons.
Using heroin and cocaine together increases the risk of respiratory failure. A speedball also increases the risk of stroke, aneurysm, and heart attack.
Since most people who use speedballs inject the drug combination intravenously, there are certain consequences that are specific to this injection drug use. The risk of these consequences increases with long-term use. Intravenous drug use problems may include:
Anyone who experiences the negative effects of speedballs or an overdose as a result of using this drug combination should seek professional treatment. The following symptoms may indicate a speedball overdose:
A speedball overdose is a medical emergency. If you witness an overdose, call 911 and stay with the person until help arrives.
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Treating speedball addiction can be challenging since the medications commonly used for heroin addiction only help moderately with speedball addiction, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. There are no medications approved by the FDA to treat cocaine addiction.
Some research published in the American Journal on Addictions states that certain medications may help with cocaine addiction, including dopamine-blocking agents or agonists, anti-craving agents, and antidepressants. These drugs may be given along with those prescribed to treat heroin addiction.
Medication is only one prong of addiction treatment, however. Therapy is the backbone of a program, and various therapies may be applied to those who struggle with speedball abuse.
Both heroin and cocaine are dangerous on their own. When they are combined, the potential for serious effects, including overdose, is greater.
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Mixing Drugs. Harm Reduction Coalition. Retrieved February 2019 from https://harmreduction.org/issues/overdose-prevention/overview/overdose-basics/opioid-od-risks-prevention/mixing-drugs/
(June 2013) Real Teens Ask About Speedballs. National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. Retrieved February 2019 from https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/real-teens-ask-about-speedballs
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(2003). Pharmacologic Treatments for Heroin and Cocaine Dependence. American Journal on Addictions. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12857659