By Annette Pinder

A new study shows an increase in cardiovascular death between 1999 and 2019 related to substance use, especially alcohol. In fact, 65% of those cardiovascular deaths involved alcohol. Those most affected were women, American Indian and Alaskan adults, younger adults, and individuals living in rural areas.

Dr. Cheng-Han Chen, an interventional cardiologist and medical director of the Structural Heart Program at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, California, noted that the study took place prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, so it did not account for the increase in substance use during the pandemic. He is therefore concerned that the upward trend may continue to worsen.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2012 to 2019, 65% of the cardiovascular disease deaths related to substance use were linked to alcohol, followed by opioids (13.7%), cocaine (9.8%), stimulants (6.5%), sedatives (4.1%) and cannabis (0.5%). However, the researchers did not consider other risk factors for cardiovascular disease in the study, such as having type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or a family history of cardiovascular disease.

The researchers found that death rates in men were higher than in women, and that the highest death rate was among American Indian or Alaska Native adults (37.7 per 100,000), in comparison to Black adults (20.3 per 100,000), white adults (14.1 per 100,000), Hispanic adults (13.0 per 100,000), and Asian adults or Pacific Islanders (3.6 per 100,000).

According to Dr. Chen, understanding which groups are most affected by cardiovascular disease deaths related to substance use could help focus public health efforts aimed at reducing substance use, and related health outcomes, among these groups. He also says that it is important to be vigilant in addressing socioeconomic inequality and economic disparity in our post-pandemic environment.