According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 9.4 percent of Americans ages 50-59 and 7 percent of adults ages 35-49 reported use of a drug other than marijuana sometime in the past year. The study’s lead author, Stefan Kertesz, M.D., associate professor in the UAB Division of Preventive Medicine. and colleagues attempted to discover if lifelong hard-drug use shortens lifespan to better enable primary-care doctors to advise patients who use drugs recreationally.
“While government guidelines have not endorsed screening for drugs in primary care, many doctors are challenged when they discover patients continue to dabble with them,” Kertesz says. “In primary-care practice, we often hear from stable patients who report using some cocaine, irregularly, perhaps on weekends. It’s an underappreciated but very common situation. The typical question physicians have to ask is ‘If this patient doesn’t have addiction, what advice can I give other than noting that it’s unwise to break the law?’ After all, we are supposed to be doctors, not law enforcement.”
Kertesz and a research team from other universities looked at data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study for their analysis. CARDIA, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, is a long-term research project involving more than 5,000 black and white men and women from Birmingham, Chicago, Minneapolis and Oakland, designed to examine the development and determinants of cardiovascular disease and its risk factors. Participants ages 18-30 were recruited and followed from 1985 to 2006.
The research team looked specifically at the reported use of “hard drugs” by 4,301 of the CARDIA participants. They compared people who stopped drug use early to those who continued and calculated the likelihood of premature death among these groups.
“Fourteen percent of the people in the study reported recent hard-drug use at least once, and of these, half continued using well into middle age,” Kertesz says. “But, most of the drug users in our study were not addicts. They were dabblers who used just a few days a month.”