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Young at heart? Drugs of abuse cause early-onset cardiovascular disease in the young
  1. Matthew L Scott1,
  2. Kevin S Murnane2,
  3. Anthony Wayne Orr3
  1. 1 Department of Pathology, LSU Health Shreveport, Shreveport, Louisiana, USA
  2. 2 Departments of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Neuroscience and Psychiatry, LSU Health Shreveport, Shreveport, Louisiana, USA
  3. 3 Departments of Pathology, Cellular Biology and Anatomy, and Molecular and Cellular Physiology, LSU Health Shreveport, Shreveport, Louisiana, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Anthony Wayne Orr, Pathology, Cell Biology and Anatomy, and Molecular and Cellular Physiology, LSU Health Shreveport, Shreveport LA 71003, USA; aorr{at}

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We are all familiar with them, from alcohol and tobacco to methamphetamine and cannabis. While drugs of abuse are often used as important medications (eg, opioids for pain management), the non-medical use of these substances has been trending upward globally,1 which is likely to be accelerated by the global coronavirus pandemic and its concomitant mental health crisis. There has been a particularly notable increase in the abuse of synthetic opioids (eg, fentanyl) and stimulants (eg, methamphetamine), with growing evidence of an epidemic of simultaneous polysubstance abuse of opioids with methamphetamine. In the USA, the emerging methamphetamine crisis has led to congressional introduction of the Methamphetamine Response Act to forestall or prevent the development of this crisis in its early stages.

Substance use and premature cardiovascular disease

Since the advent of antibiotics in the early 20th century, cardiovascular disease has been the leading cause of death in the USA. While therapeutic advances have reduced the incidence of cardiovascular diseases over the past 30 years, we have recently seen an uptick in the incidence of cardiovascular disease. Although prevalent in the aged population, atherosclerotic cardiovascular diseases (ASCVDs), such as ischaemic heart disease (IHD), ischaemic cerebrovascular disease and peripheral arterial disease, have shown an alarming rise in young patients.2 However, the causal factors contributing to this premature ASCVD remain undefined.

Substance use disorders have been associated with an acceleration of the ageing process. Use of cocaine and methamphetamine have been associated with accelerated cellular ageing and neurocognitive decline with greater than normal age-related cortical grey matter loss.3–5 In parallel to accelerated ageing, growing evidence suggests that the substance use disorder epidemics may accelerate vascular ageing and contribute to early-onset ASCVD. Cannabis use has been associated with accelerated cardiovascular ageing, and cardiovascular ageing has been viewed as a surrogate for organismal ageing.6 Lifetime opioid exposure predicts …

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  • Twitter @mscott336, @A_WayneOrr

  • Contributors MLS, KSM and AWO contributed equally to the writing of this manuscript.

  • Funding The work was supported by National Institutes of Health R01 grants HL098435, HL133497, HL141155 and GM121307 to AWO.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, conduct, reporting or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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