Cases of heart infections tied to opioid epidemic on a rise

heart infections

The number of people nationwide developing infections of either the heart’s inner lining or valves, known as infective endocarditis, in large part, due to the current opioid epidemic is alarming. This new trend predominantly affects young, white, poor men with higher rates of HIV, hepatitis C and alcohol abuse, according to new research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, which is an open access journal of the American Heart Association.

Infective endocarditis occurs when bacteria or fungi in the blood stream enter the heart’s inner lining or valves. Nearly 34,000 people receive treatment for this condition each year and approximately 20% of them die. One of the major risk factors for infective endocarditis is drug abuse.

The study's senior author Serge C. Harb, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, Cleveland, Ohio said that infective endocarditis related to drug abuse is a nationwide epidemic.

The study is based on the analysis of the data in the National Inpatient Sample registry from 2002-2016 on nearly one million hospitalized patients diagnosed with infective endocarditis to compare patients with heart infections related to drug abuse to those with heart infections from other causes. The registry is the largest publicly available database of U.S. hospitalizations.

During these 14 years studied, researchers found that the prevalence ratio for drug-abuse-related heart infections almost doubled in the United States, from 8% to 16%.

Dr. Harb said that these patients needed to be taken care by a specialized team including but not limited to cardiologists, infectious disease specialists, cardiac surgeons, nurses, addiction specialists, case managers and social workers. Also, a nationwide public health measures are necessary to be implemented to address this epidemic with targeted regional programs to support patients at increased risk.

Appropriately treating the cardiovascular infection is just a part of the management plan. Helping these patients address their addictive behaviors with social supports and effective rehabilitation programs is extremely necessary to improve their health and preventive drug abuse relapses.