BACKGROUND: Patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD) are less likely to receive cardiovascular medications. It is unclear whether differential cardiovascular drug use explains, in part, the excess risk of cardiovascular events and death in patients with CKD and coronary heart disease (CHD). METHODS: The ADVANCE Study enrolled patients with new onset CHD (2001-2003) who did (N = 159) or did not have (N = 1088) CKD at entry. The MDRD equation was used to estimate glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) using calibrated serum creatinine measurements. Patient characteristics, medication use, cardiovascular events and death were ascertained from self-report and health plan electronic databases through December 2008. RESULTS: Post-CHD event ACE inhibitor use was lower (medication possession ratio 0.50 vs. 0.58, P = 0.03) and calcium channel blocker use higher (0.47 vs. 0.38, P = 0.06) in CKD vs. non-CKD patients, respectively. Incidence of cardiovascular events and death was higher in CKD vs. non-CKD patients (13.9 vs. 11.5 per 100 person-years, P < 0.001, respectively). After adjustment for patient characteristics, the rate of cardiovascular events and death was increased for eGFR 45-59 ml/min/1.73 m2 (hazard ratio [HR] 1.47, 95% CI: 1.10 to 2.02) and eGFR < 45 ml/min/1.73 m2 (HR 1.58, 95% CI: 1.00 to 2.50). After further adjustment for statins, beta-blocker, calcium channel blocker, ACE inhibitor/ARB use, the association was no longer significant for eGFR 45-59 ml/min/1.73 m2 (HR 0.82, 95% CI: 0.25 to 2.66) or for eGFR < 45 ml/min/1.73 m2 (HR 1.19, 95% CI: 0.25 to 5.58). CONCLUSIONS: In adults with CHD, differential use of cardiovascular medications may contribute to the higher risk of cardiovascular events and death in patients with CKD.