Recreational Drug Use: A Risk Factor for Glaucoma?

Jeannette Y. Wick, RPh, MBA, FASCP
Published Online: Thursday, May 24, 2012
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Those with a history of cocaine use have a significantly increased risk of developing glaucoma and tend to develop it at a much younger age, a study finds.

Use of cocaine is significantly associated with developing glaucoma, according to the results of a study published in the September 2011 issue of the Journal of Glaucoma. The researchers analyzed records for 5.3 million veterans (91% of whom were men) seen in Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinics in a 1-year period.
After adjusting for confounding variables, including age, other illicit drug use, and race, the researchers found that current and former male cocaine users had a 45% increased risk of glaucoma, whereas results for women were not statistically significant. Use of amphetamines and marijuana was also significantly associated with development of open-angle glaucoma among men, although to a lesser degree than cocaine. Patients with histories of illegal drug exposure also developed open-angle glaucoma nearly 20 years earlier than those who had not used drugs.
Although the study finds a significant increased risk for glaucoma in those with a history of drug use, it does not prove a causal relationship. If other studies do so, however, substance abuse would become the second modifiable risk factor for glaucoma, after increased intraocular pressure.
“The association of illegal drug use with open-angle glaucoma requires further study, but if the relationship is confirmed, this understanding could lead to new strategies to prevent vision loss,” said lead study author Dustin French, PhD, a research scientist with the Veterans Health Administration based in Indianapolis.

Ms. Wick is a visiting professor at the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy and a freelance writer from Virginia.

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