Cocaine and Opioid Abuse Connected to Potentially Fatal Heart Disease

Medical surgery

“Endocarditis in patients with cocaine or opioid use disorder markedly increased between 2011 and 2022.” That is the breaking news headline in a National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) press release regarding recent findings connecting cocaine abuse to potentially fatal heart disease. The findings highlight how dangerous cocaine abuse is, further emphasizing the need for addicts to seek treatment.

The Findings

Though relatively rare, infective endocarditis is a life-threatening inflammation of the heart’s chambers and valves, often caused by needles that are not sterile. The illness can be difficult and expensive to treat and can easily be fatal when left untreated.

According to recent findings published by NIDA, incidences of endocarditis among opioid addicts and cocaine addicts spiked between 2011 and 2022. Not only were people addicted to opioids or cocaine more likely to suffer from endocarditis than non-addicts, but addicts who contracted COVID-19 were at even greater risk of also contracting endocarditis than addicts who did not contract COVID-19.

Studying medical records of 109 million patients between 2011 and 2022, the researchers found that four cases of endocarditis occurred every day for every one million opioid addicts in 2011. But in 2022, the rate increased to 30 cases per day for every one million opioid addicts. For people with cocaine addiction, cases increased from five per one million people with cocaine addiction per day in 2011 to 23 cases per one million people per day in 2022.

The sharp increase of potentially fatal endocarditis infections among addicts from 2011 to 2022 suggests drug abuse is becoming more dangerous, not just because the drugs themselves are becoming more potent and more likely to cause fatal overdoses but because addicts are more likely to contract severe illnesses while using drugs. Add to that the fact that researchers found a COVID-19 diagnosis doubled addicts’ risks of an endocarditis infection makes it clear: It is simply far more dangerous to be a drug addict today than perhaps it’s ever been.

“People with substance use disorder already face major impediments to proper healthcare due to lack of access and stigma.”
Emergency entrance

Over the 12 years that the NIDA researchers examined, the rate of endocarditis infections was three to eight times greater in patients with opioid and/or cocaine addictions than in patients without. Regarding the increased risk factors, NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow commented on how dangerous life is for addicts and why getting them treatment is crucial. “People with substance use disorder already face major impediments to proper healthcare due to lack of access and stigma. Proven techniques like syringe service programs, which help people avoid infection from re-used or shared injection equipment, can help prevent this often fatal and costly condition.” According to the report, one in ten hospitalizations for endocarditis has officially been connected to drug abuse, usually cocaine, opioids, or methamphetamine.

The study authors also noted that endocarditis isn’t the only risk drug users face. When an addict uses a dirty needle to inject drugs, they are also putting themselves at risk for HIV, hepatitis, and several other infections.

Drug Addiction has Always Been Dangerous. Today it’s Likely to be Fatal.

An increased risk for endocarditis is only one added risk factor that addicts today face when they experiment with drugs. From a rise in prescription drug overdoses to increased fatalities due to illicit drugs being mixed with potent synthetic fentanyl, addicts are more likely to die from drug overdoses today than in any year since the recording of ODs began.

This spike in risk and the likelihood of a serious health crisis or death due to drug abuse makes it all the more clear that America has to move away from stigmatizing and stereotyping drug use and avoid treating it as a criminal inclination. America has to prioritize treatment for addicts, not incarceration or shunning.

Finally, perhaps the greatest harmful result of drug abuse becoming more dangerous and more likely to cause serious health issues or even death is that these shifts affect young people the most. According to one breaking news report, fewer teens and young adults are using drugs, but they’re dying from drug use in greater numbers than in previous years. That means the drugs they’re using and how they’re using them are more likely to lead to a fatal encounter.

A spike in cocaine and opioid-related endocarditis is just one symptom of America’s greater public health crisis. Drug abuse is now a public health emergency and should be treated as such. If you know someone who is using drugs and alcohol and who cannot stop, please help them find and enter a qualified residential addiction treatment center today.

Sources Cited:

  • NIDA. “Endocarditis in patients with cocaine or opioid use disorder markedly increased between 2011 and 2022.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2022.
  • NIDA. “Infective Endocarditis.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2022.
  • SAMHSA. “Rise in Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse Impacting Teens.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2022.
  • CNNHealth. “Teen overdose deaths are rapidly rising – but not because more of them are using drugs.” CNN Health, 2022.



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.