Methamphetamine, cocaine, MDMA and other psychostimulant drugs are responsible for one in five fatal strokes among young adults in Australia.
Analysis of the 280 fatal strokes among young adults aged 15 to 45 between 2009 and 2016 has revealed the “astonishingly high” toll of 50 was directly attributed to stimulant drug use.
The average age of death among those adults with stimulant-related strokes was 37.
“Almost all of those had used the stimulants immediately prior to the fatal stroke,” said National Drug and Alcohol Council researcher Professor Shane Darke. “The other five were known to be long-term stimulant users.”
Stimulant users are more likely to suffer strokes and the strokes they experience are far more likely to be fatal, with 30 per cent of strokes among users proving fatal compared to about three per cent of strokes among non-users.
“We do know there’s an elevated risk of stroke for these drugs: methamphetamine has a five-times higher risk of stroke and cocaine use has two times the risk.” Strokes related to MDMA and ecstasy are rarer but do occur.
Professor Darke said stoke was rare among young adults, but the average age of the psychostimulant users who suffered a stroke was just 37 years.
“If the stimulants weren't there in all probability these strokes would not have occurred.”Professor Shane Darke
“What that means is each death was associated with some 46 years of potential life lost, and looking at all stimulant-related stroke deaths over 2000 cumulative years of potential life were lost which was all preventable,” he said.
A further 100 young stimulant users survived strokes over that time, with Professor Darke estimating about 60 of those would have ongoing issues related to the stroke.
“If the stimulants weren't there in all probability these strokes would not have occurred,” he said.
Professor Darke said the drugs increased blood pressure immediately when they were taken, which could cause bleeds in the brain as well as various heart conditions. If the drugs were taken regularly they caused constantly high blood pressure increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Professor Darke said strokes in stimulant users also tended to occur deep in the substance of the brain, and generally were related to bleeds rather than blockages – findings that came from analysis of the National Coronial Information System database.
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