• Cardiovascular death;
  • cocaine;
  • drug abuse;
  • drug dependence;
  • forensic;
  • sudden death;
  • risk factor



The aims of the present study were to: (i) evaluate the prevalence of recent cocaine use in adolescents and young adults who had died by sudden cardiovascular death (SCVD); (ii) assess if recent cocaine use was associated with an increased risk of SCVD; and (iii) determine the demographic, clinical–pathological and toxicological characteristics of SCVD related to recent cocaine use.


This was a case–control autopsy-based observational retrospective study.


Cases were all SCVD in individuals aged between 15 and 49 years during the period ranging from 1 January 2003 to 31 December 2009, with autopsies performed in Biscay, Spain. Medico-legal sudden deaths not due to cardiovascular diseases (SnoCVD) were used as the control group. In all deaths a complete autopsy and toxicological and histopathological studies were carried out. Recent cocaine use was considered when cocaine and/or benzoylecgonine were detected in blood.


The risk for SCVD according to demographic variables (sex and age), cardiovascular risk factors (obesity, hypertension, diabetes and smoking) and toxicological variables (opioids, benzodiazepines, amphetamines, cannabis and alcohol) was analysed using three logistic regression models. We also estimated the prevalence of recent cocaine use in the general population aged 15–49 years based on the projection of population surveys.


Recent cocaine use was significantly higher in the SCVD group (27 of 311 subjects, 9%) than in the SnoCVD group (three of 126 subjects, 2%). In a full logistic regression controlling for all recorded covariates, the main risk factor for SCVD was recent cocaine use (odds ratio 4.10; 95% confidence interval 1.12–15.0). Compared with the estimated data in the general population, the prevalence of recent cocaine use was 13–58 times higher in people with SCVD.


Recent cocaine use is associated significantly with an increased risk for sudden cardiovascular death in people aged 15–49 years.