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Opioid epidemic linked to rise in heart infections

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths have increased significantly in recent years.

This rise in drug abuse brings an increased risk of a serious and potentially fatal infection of the heart valves.

New research, led by Cleveland Clinic's Dr. Serge Harb shows an alarming rise in this type of infection in young people who abuse drugs. 

"Between 2002 and 2016 nationwide, hospitalizations for infection of the heart valves related to drug abuse have nearly doubled from 8 percent to 16 percent, and this has affected the entire nation with the Midwest being in the region most affected," he said.

Research results showed a rise in admissions for infection of the heart valves, a condition called endocarditis, particularly among people who have a history of drug abuse. 

According to Harb, this type of infection can occur in people who use injectable drugs, when bacteria get into the bloodstream from a dirty needle, or from opiates contaminated with a foreign substance.

Data show infection of the heart valves related to drug abuse specifically affects the young, with the average age being about 38 years old.

The study also shows approximately 68% of people affected were Caucasian, 55% were men, and 42% were from low-income households. 

Many also had HIV, Hepatitis C, and suffered from alcohol abuse.

Harb said treating heart valve infection involves antibiotics and sometimes surgery. But in order to prevent recurrence, he said the addiction needs treatment too. 

"Treating the infection is only part of the management plan," he said. "The bigger picture is to help these patients and provide them with social support, put them in effective rehab programs, help them with their addictive behaviors, so that we can prevent relapses and can help these patients with better care." 

Results also show people with drug abuse-related heart valve infections typically stay longer in the hospital, and incur higher medical costs.  

Complete results can be found in the Journal of the American Heart Association.