Opiate Crisis Leads to More Young Addicts Needing Heart Surgery

addicts with endocarditis

There are a vast number of problems associated with today’s opiate problem. Streets are littered with needles, drug-related crime has increased and overdoses and deaths have surged way beyond what is the “norm”. We even have high school-aged kids visiting the Methadone clinic early each morning for their daily dose. The problem is severe at this point and just when we thought the problem was as bad as it could get, it seems to have only gotten worse.

The opiate crisis has lead to a new, grim problem for the addicts it affects and it could be the very thing that puts them in the grave. More and more young addicts are requiring major heart surgery to handle an infection caused by IV drug use. Endocarditis is an infection affecting the heart and heart valves. The increase of infections amongst addicts is due to using dirty needles or from bacteria that’s present on the skin when the person shoots up. The bacteria inadvertently enter the bloodstream where it then winds up in the heart.

Dr. Alysse Wurcel, an infectious disease physician at Tufts Medical Center said, “as the valve gets eaten away, the bacteria can get flicked off into different parts of the body. One of the scariest parts about it is when it goes to the brain it can cause a stroke. It can go anywhere in the body that the blood goes, stop flow to that organ and cause that organ to shut down."

Another big problem is that addicts rarely place importance on handling their medical problems. Because they’re so consumed with getting high, medical issues get ignored or go unhandled. When the symptoms of endocarditis first appear, it could ordinarily be treated with a course of antibiotics. If the infection is ignored or goes unnoticed, it will cause the addict to need emergency heart valve replacement surgery in order to save their life. You heard it, folks, this infection is extremely life threatening. You can read here how a young addict struggled with heroin abuse and died after being clean for a year due to untreated endocarditis.

This also brings us to another point. If an addict gets endocarditis and needs immediate, life-saving surgery, what’s to keep them from damaging their new valve? This poses a major problem for doctors. Wurcel also said "often, they end up using again, and when they use drugs again, they're at risk for getting another infection of the valve. If someone had their first valve, do they get a second valve? That's where the ethical question comes up."

The answer here is most certainly obvious. Good, quality drug treatment is society’s only hope. A lot of addicts don’t have well-off families and great insurance policies that can pay for good treatment. Unfortunately, we live in a time where the select few have access to treatment. Everyone else has to go to wherever their Medicaid will pay. We need to turn this around and make quality treatment available to anyone who needs it. It may be your loved one who may need it one day.





Jason Good

Jason has been working in the field of addiction and recovery for over 11 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.