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Sudden deaths attributed to cocaine use; drug remains a growing health problem in Europe

October 11, 2017

Dr Lucena said: "As the estimated number of European young adults cocaine consumers is similar in Spain, UK and Italy, there is no reason to consider that the cocaine-related sudden death in UK and Italy would be different to what we have found in our research in south-west Spain."

To put the rates of sudden deaths in context, he added: "According to our experience in the Forensic Pathology Service at the Institute of Legal Medicine, the rate of cocaine-related deaths per year in Seville, is roughly half the number of people who die suddenly from haemorrhagic stroke." [3]

Professor David Hillis and Professor Richard Lange, chairman and executive vice chairman respectively of the Department of Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center (San Antonio, USA), who were unconnected with the work, wrote an editorial to accompany Dr Lucena's paper. They reported that the prevalence of cocaine use varied in Europe from 0.7% in Romania and Lithuania to 12.7% in the UK, but this was likely to be an under-estimate.

They agreed that uniform protocols were required for post-mortems on victims of sudden death, including toxicological examination of the blood and urine for illicit drugs. "Until these are accomplished, the prevalence of cocaine and other illicit drug use will be underestimated, and cocaine-related complications will not be recognized," they wrote. "Physicians should consider the possibility of cocaine abuse in a young individual with cardiovascular disease or sudden death, especially in those without traditional risk factors for atherosclerosis. Finally, the notion that recreational cocaine use is 'safe' should be dispelled, since even small amounts may have catastrophic consequences, including sudden death."

[1] "Cocaine-related sudden death: a prospective investigation in south-west Spain." European Heart Journal. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehp557.

[2] "Sudden death in cocaine abusers." European Heart Journal. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehp503.

[3] Haemorrhagic stroke is a type of stroke that accounts for about 15% of stroke cases. It results from a weakened vessel that ruptures and bleeds into the surrounding brain, accumulating and compressing the surrounding brain tissue.

Source: European Heart Journal