02 May Using Cocaine and Heroin Greatly Increases Chances of Early Death
Cocaine use in the U.S. appears to be waning slightly. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1.9 million Americans used cocaine in 2008. By 2010 the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 1.5 million Americans used the drug. Heroin, however, is on the rise. Both substances can lead to fatalities, but just how big is the risk? A recent Spanish study examined mortality rates for those who use cocaine or heroin, finding that users experienced a more than 14-fold increase in death risk.
Spain’s death record system doesn’t record drug deaths as such – cocaine deaths are listed as heart attacks or suicides with no reference to drugs. Even if postmortem examination points to drug use as a cause of death, the records are very rarely amended.
For these reasons researchers from the Spanish Working Group for the Study of Mortality among Drug Users decided to simply compare death rates among cocaine and heroin users to death rates in the general public for their study.
The subjects, ages 15-49 and admitted for treatment in Barcelona or Madrid for cocaine and/or heroin use between the years 1997-2007, were divided into two groups – one composed of 8,825 known users of both cocaine and heroin, and the other made up of 11,095 individuals who had used only cocaine. Control subjects and drug users were monitored using entries in the general death register for Spain.
People in group one and group two experienced higher death rates compared to those in the general public. For those who used both cocaine and heroin the mortality rate proved to be 14.3 times greater compared to the general population. Among those who used cocaine only the adjusted death ratio was 5.1 times higher.
Among those who used both heroin and cocaine, men seemed to face a one and a half times higher death risk over women in the group. In the cocaine only group, there did not appear to be a gender difference in death rates. However, female drug users, compared to women of similar age in the general population, did face an 8.6 times greater risk of mortality. This was noteworthy since non-drug using women of this age are associated with low death risk. Women therefore increased their death risk more than did men by choosing to use cocaine.
The researchers pointed out that factors besides just heroin use probably contributed to the elevated mortality rates. The risk of death for people in this group was also likely affected by things such as unemployment, daily cocaine use and choosing to use their drugs via IV injection. The study also did not control for other potential influences like personality, social standing or mental health.
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