Opioid Epidemic Linked to Greater Number of Heart Infections in the US

March 16, 2021
Skylar Kenney, Assistant Editor

Preliminary research by the American Heart Association suggests the opioid epidemic in the United States may have led to an increase in the number of strokes due to bacterial infections of the heart (infective endocarditis).

Preliminary research by the American Heart Association suggests the opioid epidemic in the United States may have led to an increase in the number of strokes due to bacterial infections of the heart (infective endocarditis). The occurrence of endocarditis from intravenous (IV) drug use has increased dramatically over the 4 years the study was conducted, showing that patients with endocarditis due to IV drug use were almost twice as likely to suffer a stroke as those with endocarditis from other causes.

A serious and sometimes fatal condition, endocarditis occurs when bacteria in the blood reaches the heart lining, valves, or blood vessels, affecting up to 47,000 people in the United States annually. IV drug use is a risk factor for the disease, as bacteria from the injection needle enters the blood stream, potentially infecting the heart.

Over the course of the 4-year study, instances of endocarditis from IV drug use increased by 630%. Patients who contracted the disease from IV drug use had a 26% likelihood of suffering a stroke, compared to 14% among patients with endocarditis from other causes. Additionally, patients with endocarditis from IV drug use were more likely to be homeless, unemployed, and uninsured.

“The wider societal impact of the opioid epidemic is not well understood,” said Sahid M. Nimjee, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurosurgery, surgical director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center and the study’s lead author, in a press release. “Our research suggests that the impact of the opioid epidemic is far-reaching and contributes to increased costs in the criminal justice, health care systems and the workplace. The increased costs can be particularly substantial for stroke care.”

Medical costs among patients with endocarditis from IV drug use were more than two times higher than those with endocarditis from other causes, leading to a difference of more than $100,000 in health care costs per patient, according to the study.

The study included 351 patients treated for endocarditis between January 1, 2014, and July 1, 2018, at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. Nearly half of the patients had a history of IV drug use. The study did not control for other risk factors that could lead to stroke and included patients from only one hospital, so the findings may not apply to other groups of patients, according to the authors.

REFERENCE

More heart infections and strokes in the US linked to national opioid epidemic [news release]. EurekAlert; March 11, 2021. Accessed March 15, 2021. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-03/aha-mhi031021.php