Katherine R. Schlaerth, MD, Fellow, American Academy of Pediatrics; Fellow, American Academy of Family Practice; Fellow, Pediatric Infectious Disease Society; Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Loma Linda, California; Associate Professor Emeritus, Departments of Family Practice and Pediatrics, University of Southern California School of Medicine, Los Angeles, California, USA.
Most practitioners assume that the use of illegal or “street” drugs is confined to the young. However, a recent phenomenon has been the use of such drugs by individuals above the age of 50. Social trends play a part: many older addicts began using in the 1960s. Others share the use of illegal drugs with other family members as a mode of family recreation. The latter trend is probably more common in inner cities where drugs are more easily obtained. Older men are twice as likely to use illegal drugs as are older women, though the latter outnumber the former demographically. Many illegal drugs, especially cocaine, methamphetamines, and even marijuana have cardiovascular effects that are especially dangerous when they occur in older individuals who may already have underlying cardiovascular disease. Practitioners must be vigilant about querying patients about their use of illegal drugs, no matter what their age, and especially if cardiovascular illness is involved.
Key words: older adults, illegal drugs, cardiovascular disease, cocaine, methamphetamines.