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Keywords:

  • cocaine;
  • ethanol;
  • cocaethylene;
  • cardiac arrhythmia;
  • myocardial depression

Abstract. Objectives: Simultaneous abuse of cocaine and ethanol affects 12 million Americans annually. In combination, these substances are substantially more toxic than either drug alone. Their combined cardiac toxicity may be due to independent effects of each drug; however, they may also be due to cocaethylene (CE), a cocaine metabolite formed only in the presence of ethanol. The purpose of this study was to delineate the role of CE in the combined cardiotoxicity of cocaine and ethanol in a model simulating their abuse. Methods: Twenty-three dogs were randomized to receive either 1) three intravenous (IV) boluses of cocaine 7.5 mg/kg with ethanol (1 g/kg) as an IV infusion (C+E, n= 8), 2) three cocaine boluses only (C, n= 6), 3) ethanol infusion only (E, n= 5), or 4) placebo boluses and infusion (n= 4). Hemodynamic measurements, electrocardiograms, and serum drug concentrations were obtained at baseline, and then at fixed time intervals after each drug was administered. Results: Two of eight dogs in the C+E group experienced cardiovascular collapse. The most dramatic hemodynamic changes occurred after each cocaine bolus in the C+E and C only groups; however, persistent hemodynamic changes occurred in the C+E group. Peak CE levels were associated with a 45% (SD ± 22%, 95% CI = 22% to 69%) decrease in cardiac output (p < 0.05), a 56% (SD ± 23%, 95% CI = 32% to 80%) decrease in dP/dtmax (p <.006), and a 23% (SD ± 15%, 95% CI = 7% to 49%) decrease in SVO2 (p < 0.025). Ventricular arrhythmias were primarily observed in the C+E group, in which four of eight dogs experienced ventricular tachycardia. Conclusions: Cocaine and ethanol in combination were more toxic than either substance alone. Co-administration resulted in prolonged cardiac toxicity and was dysrhythmogenic. Peak serum cocaethylene concentrations were associated with prolonged myocardial depression.