Objective: In the mid-1980s the form of cocaine called "crack" became widely available in New York City. The authors sought to determine the prevalence of cocaine metabolites detected at autopsy in persons who committed suicide in New York City during this period.
Method: Individual reviews of the autopsy and toxicological records of all persons under the age of 61 who had committed suicide in the city during a 1-year period were conducted to determine demographic characteristics, suicide methods, and cocaine and alcohol use at the time of death.
Results: In one of every five cases studied, the person who committed suicide had used cocaine within days of his or her death. The prevalence of cocaine use among young Hispanic males who committed suicide was 45%. Persons who were young, black, or Hispanic and who had used alcohol immediately before the fatal injury were most likely to have been recent cocaine users. After controlling for demographic variables and ethanol use, the investigators found that individuals who committed suicide with firearms were twice as likely to have used cocaine as those who used other methods.
Conclusions: In contrast to the results of regional and household surveys during this period, which suggested that the current prevalence of cocaine use in New York City was 3%-5%, these results suggest a high prevalence of cocaine use in the days immediately preceding death by young persons who commit suicide. Additional studies are needed to determine how cocaine may act as a risk factor for suicide.