January 14, 2010

No Safe Way To Use Cocaine

Researchers warned that there is no 'safe' amount of cocaine to use, after a study found that up to 3 percent of all sudden deaths are linked to the drug.

Even taking the smallest amount could lead to death from sudden heart problems.

Although the data comes from south-west Spain, experts say the findings could be extrapolated to Britain and other European countries, where cocaine has overtaken heroin as the most popular class A drug.

Out of 668 sudden deaths reported during the three-year study period, 21 (3.1 percent) were found to be related to cocaine use; all occurred in men aged between 21 and 45. In 17 of the cases the death related to problems with the heart and its related systems.

"The notion that recreational cocaine use is 'safe' should be dispelled, since even small amounts may have catastrophic consequences, including sudden death," says Joaquin Lucena, a researcher at the Institute of Legal Medicine in Seville.

The researchers found that 81 percent of the men who died after cocaine use also smoked, and 76 percent had drunk alcohol.

Ethanol, the intoxicating ingredient in alcoholic drinks, enhances the "high" obtained from cocaine while minimizing the subsequent "low". However, both smoking and alcohol are associated with heart disease and Dr Lucena said: "The combination of cocaine with either or both of these habits can be considered as a lethal cocktail that promotes the development of premature heart disease." 

Fotini Rozakeas, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation said that the research should dispel the myth that cocaine is a "safe party drug."

"The reality is that there are risks every time you use it. Cocaine can have devastating effects on the user including heart attacks, life-threatening heart rhythms, strokes and even sudden death. The potential deadly consequences from cocaine use can happen to anyone who takes it even in previously young healthy people with no history of heart disease."