Study says Europe's 12 million cocaine users risk lives

Wed Jan 13, 2010 3:02am EST
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By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - More than three percent of sudden deaths in Europe are related to cocaine use and many of them are brought on by a "lethal cocktail" of the drug, alcohol and cigarettes, scientists said Wednesday.

Results of a study on sudden death show there is no such thing as safe recreational cocaine use, the researchers said, and suggest the 12 million Europeans who use cocaine are putting their lives on the line.

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

Lucena and his team studied sudden deaths in south-west Spain between 2003 and 2006 and found 3.1 percent of them were related to taking cocaine, which had damaged the heart and arteries.

The researchers also found all the cocaine sudden deaths were in men aged between 21 and 45, and 81 percent of them also smoked, while 76 percent had also drunk alcohol.

Ethanol, the intoxicating ingredient in alcohol, enhances the high users get from cocaine and softens the subsequent low. But both smoking and alcohol are also linked with heart disease.

"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," Lucena wrote in the study, which was published in the European Heart Journal.

Lucena also said he believed his findings could safely be extrapolated to much of the rest of Europe, suggesting cocaine use is a significant public health threat.   Continued...

<p>A female smokes cocaine in a house in Rotterdam October 24, 1998. REUTERS/Stringer</p>