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Health consequences of illegal drug use

Chen, Chuan-Yu; Lin, Keh-Ming

Current Opinion in Psychiatry: May 2009 - Volume 22 - Issue 3 - p 287–292
doi: 10.1097/YCO.0b013e32832a2349
Addictive disorders: Edited by John B. Saunders and Linda B. Cottler

Purpose of review The aim of this article is to review recent research on the health consequences of illegal drug use and possible risk factors, with a particular focus on prospective evidence.

Recent findings Mortality studies have revealed qualitative and quantitative changes in causes of death among heroin and injecting drug users (IDUs), probably due to increasing exposure to harm reduction programs, the introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), the aging of drug users, and rising concurrent use of illegal drugs and prescription drugs. For morbidity, nonfatal overdose is still one of the most important concerns; likewise the higher prevalence of hepatitis C among non-IDUs and hepatitis A, B, C coinfection. Cannabis use has been consistently reported to be associated with the emergence of psychotic symptoms, yet that seems not to be the case for anxiety and depressive disorders. Use of 3,4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) has been linked with short-term negative effects on cognitive performance (i.e. visual memory). A series of longitudinal studies have shown enduring unfavorable effects of prenatal cocaine and marijuana exposure on children's physical, cognitive, and language development.

Summary Prospective evidence on illegal drug use in particular subpopulations may be needed to better understand health problems among users at different life stages and the possible long-term effects.

Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Research, Institute of Population Health Sciences, National Health Research Institutes, Miaoli County, Taiwan

Correspondence to Chuan-Yu Chen, PhD, National Health Research Institutes, Institute of Population Health Sciences, Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Research, 35 Keyan Road, Zhunan, Miaoli County 350, Taiwan Tel: +886 037 246 166 x36705; fax: +886 037 583 461; e-mail:

There are no conflicts of interest.

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.