Antibiotics and Surgery Don’t Cure the Cause of Endocarditis In IV Drug Users

Endocarditis is a serious infection that affects the heart valves and is becoming more common than ever with today’s drug epidemic. You never used to hear of so many young people being diagnosed with the illness. It occurred mostly in older people but now, it’s becoming more and more common as IV drug use soars. The usual handlings for endocarditis are antibiotics and, if needed, valve replacement surgery. While these are life-saving measures, they don’t fully and actually get to the core root of the infections.

increases in endocarditis among IV drug addicts

The disease is caused by bacteria living on the skin getting into the bloodstream, and with IV drug users, it usually happens when they shoot up and don’t clean the injection site first. The bacteria get pushed into the veins by the syringe and wind up in the heart where the bacteria multiply and the valve vegetation begins. There are more young people using IV drugs than ever before and it’s causing the rates of endocarditis to shoot through the roof. As a matter of fact, a study conducted by Tufts Medical Center found that the amount of people hospitalized and treated for endocarditis apparently doubled between the turn of the century and 2013. That’s a very troubling statistic because it’s just one more figure that illustrates the dire crisis we’re in. Addicts and their families have more things to worry about than I can count and getting a potentially fatal heart infection is just one more thing to add to the list.

Here’s the thing…antibiotics and surgery can acutely cure endocarditis, for sure, but it doesn’t get to the underlying cause behind the infections. While endocarditis isn’t a new disease, the incomprehensible increase in young people being afflicted by it is definitely a new phenomenon all centered around our society’s drug problem. In my opinion, if we want to handle the real reason for all these endocarditis cases, we need to look toward ways of getting people sober and off the needle. At the end of the day, it’s not endocarditis that may have killed someone, but rather they died from a byproduct of their addiction. If doctors take an IV heroin addict with endocarditis, treat the infection and send them back home, what do you think the chances are of them continuing to use drugs? Unless they get addiction treatment I’d say the chances of them continuing to shoot up is pretty high, even after having a close call with something that might have killed them. Dr. Christopher Rowley, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s Infectious Disease Division said, “If we don't treat the opioid use disorder which led to the infection then we've only done half the job.”

Addiction is a truly scary thing. It’s a lifestyle choice that has virtually no prediction to it and you never quite know how each day will end, if you survive the day at all. Endocarditis is yet another thing to add to the laundry list of worries parents have about their addicted child, or a child has about their addicted parent. Quite obviously, if we don’t start to gain some control over the drug crisis, things like this are going to continue to pop up and get worse.

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Jason Good

Jason has been working in the field of addiction and recovery for over 10 years. Having been an addict himself he brings real-word experience to the table when helping addicts and their families, while also offering a first-person perspective to the current drug crisis. Jason is passionate about educating the public about what’s currently going on in our society, and thankfully, offers practical solutions. Jason is also the co-host of The Addiction Podcast—Point of No Return. You can follow Jason on Google+, Twitter, or connect with him on LinkedIn.