The hidden consequence of the opioid crisis: Hospitals overrun with cases of diseases from IV drug use

Doctor and nurses wheeling patient in gurney through hospital corridor
Hospitalizations for endocarditis spiked 50% from 2002 to 2012 at a cost of about $50,000 per patient, according to a USA Today analysis. (Getty/Sam Edwards)

Although opioid overdoses have made national headlines, hospitals are also dealing with another consequence of drug addiction: an overwhelming number of infectious diseases among intravenous drug users.

That’s because addiction often clouds drug users’ judgement so they reject treatment for infections until it becomes a crisis. As a result, hospitals have seen an increase in users who have repeated cases of endocarditis, hepatitis C and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), according to a USA Today report. And the costs to treat these infections and conditions are significant.

The newspaper analysis revealed that hospitalizations for endocarditis spiked 50% from 2002 to 2012 at a cost of about $50,000 per patient. Cases of acute infections from hepatitis C tripled from 2010 through 2015, the newspaper reported, and the costs to treat MRSA average about $60,000 per patient. Overall infections in IV drug users cost Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami more than $11 million in one year, according to the report.

"The addiction issue is causing the endocarditis, so if you're not treating the addiction, they're going to be coming back," Ulas Camsari, a Mayo Clinic addiction psychiatrist, told the newspaper.

But one drug user told USA Today that people who suffer with addiction often avoid hospitals because they fear withdrawal symptoms or having no access to heroin.

National efforts to combat addiction may help if enough funding is allocated for programs. This month, a commission tasked by President Donald Trump to address the country’s opioid epidemic recommended more than 56 actions the federal, state and local governments could do to combat drug addiction and opioid deaths.

Trump has declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency but so far hasn’t specified about what the declaration means in terms of funding.