Opioid drug use by vein injection related to heart infections

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Alysse G. Wurcel, MD, MS, is a physician at Tufts Medical Center and an assistant professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston.

As the opioid epidemic continues to put users at risk for serious conditions and diseases, new research that shows injection opioid drug use is related to life-threatening heart infections has experts posing solutions to the growing drug problem.

The study, published in Open Forum Infectious Diseases, was based on healthcare claim data from community hospitals across the country that show an increasing number of injection drug users, who are younger than 34, are hospitalized with infective endocarditis, a heart infection that involves several weeks of antibiotics and sometimes surgery to repair and replace damaged heart valves.

Most of the sample population was white and female, which suggests that it mirrors the general population in the U.S.

"These infections are dangerous and often need surgery, and people who inject drugs frequently get these infections," said Alysse G. Wurcel, MD, MS, a physician at Tufts Medical Center and an assistant professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, in a statement. "We're seeing across the country that injection drug use is not necessarily an urban or an impoverished community issue. The racial, age, and gender distributions are changing."

The study found that from 2000 to 2013, there was an increase from 7 percent to 12 percent in the number of patients hospitalized for infective endocarditis that resulted from injection drug use.

Demographic data revealed that the number of hospitalizations for heart infections causes by drug use increased among patients between the ages of 15 and 34 between 2000 and 2013. It rose from 27 percent to 42 percent. The number of patients in this category that were white increased from 40 percent to 69 percent and females accounted for 53 percent of those patients.

Based on the findings, the study authors suggest that there be an increase in programs that can help prevent these types of infections as well as educate youth about the dangers of using opioid drugs. In addition to being dangerous for patients, these types of heart infections are costly for healthcare providers.