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Opioid epidemic causes jump in deadly heart infections

A man pours a prescription bottle of pills into his hand.

Oct. 11, 2019—A growing number of people in the U.S. are coming down with a life-threatening heart infection—and the opioid epidemic is largely to blame for the rise, a new study suggests.

That condition is infective endocarditis (IE). It occurs when bacteria or fungi in the blood invade the heart's inner lining or valves. Nearly 34,000 people nationwide are treated for it every year. And it can be deadly—about 20% don't survive. Sharing needles when using drugs often spreads the infection.

The study looked at data from nearly 1 million people hospitalized with IE between 2002 and 2016. It found that drug abuse was involved in 16% of the cases in 2016. That's double the rate from 2002.

All of the U.S. saw a surge in drug-related IE over that period. But the biggest jump occurred in the Midwest, where it rose nearly 5% each year.

Young men at risk

The study found that the majority of patients with drug-related IE were young, white men with a median age of 38.

They were often poor. Nearly 42% had an income in the bottom quarter of U.S. households.

And compared to patients with IE who didn't abuse drugs, they had:

  • Higher rates of HIV, hepatitis C and alcohol abuse.
  • Longer hospital stays.
  • Higher healthcare costs.

The study appeared in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

A nation in crisis

Opioid addiction can happen to anyone. If your doctor prescribes opioids to ease your pain, take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones.

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