Form of Heart Disease Connected to Opioid Use

A doctor is doing heart exam on a patient.

Overdoses are probably the most discussed and the most focused-on effect of drug use, particularly when it comes to opioid drugs. We see news headlines about drug overdoses all the time. Information regarding drug overdoses is always front and center in the news because overdoses are linked to drug fatalities. When people die from a drug overdose, that reaches media headlines immediately.

However, if we focus too much on drug overdoses, that has the inevitable effect of making us focus only on drug overdoses. This can evolve to the point where we see overdoses as being the primary aspect of the drug problem. If that is all we ever talk about, it can lead us to believe that overdoses are the only harmful effect of drug use. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Drug overdoses are a severe issue and should certainly be addressed. But there are many other harmful side effects of using drugs. Various health problems and psychological problems come about because of drug use, such as behavioral difficulties, crimes committed, violence, accidents, injuries, troubles with the law, and diseases, to name a few.

Case in point, new research suggests that the opioid epidemic is tied to a doubling of dangerous heart infections like endocarditis.


What Is Endocarditis?

Endocarditis is a severe bacterial infection. When a drug user uses a dirty needle to inject heroin, bacteria from that needle can get into the patient’s bloodstream. That bacteria attacks the heart’s lining and valves. That can lead to stroke, to a leaky heart valve, to heart failure, and to abscesses around the heart valve. It can be a fatal condition. Furthermore, drug use is the primary risk factor for contracting endocarditis.

A new study discussed in a recent U.S. News article suggests that the rising statistic of potentially lethal heart disease is directly connected to the growing opioid crisis.

The fundamental discovery of the research was in the shocking findings related to endocarditis. The study found that incidences of endocarditis were far more common in young, poor white men who were also IV heroin users. The study showed that, in 2016, IV drug use was prevalent in 16 percent of endocarditis cases. That’s compared to the 2002 research, where at that time IV drug use was only present in eight percent of endocarditis cases. Not only have incidences of endocarditis gone up, but the connection between this bacterial infection and IV drug use has become even more apparent.

Dr. Serge Harb, lead researcher and assistant professor of medicine at Cleveland Clinic’s College of Medicine, commented on the research: “Appropriately treating the infection is only one part of the management plan. Helping these patients address their addictive behaviors, providing social support, and getting them to effective rehabilitation programs are key aspects in their optimal care and to prevent relapses. Nationwide, public health measures need to be implemented to address this epidemic, with targeted regional measures specifically addressed to patients at risk.”

Dr. Gregg Fonarow is a professor of cardiology at the University of California. He commented on the research and the mounting concern on the seemingly unstoppable growth of the opioid epidemic: “Infective endocarditis is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition that results in substantial morbidity and health care expenditures. The substantial rise in drug abuse associated with infective endocarditis further highlights the devastating effects the opioid epidemic has had in the United States, and why intensive efforts are needed to further address this serious public health issue.”

The Long-Term Consequences of Drug Use

The full study regarding opioid addiction and endocarditis can be viewed at the Journal of the American Heart Association. This study is a textbook example of how drug use creates other health complications. These are health complications that have nothing to do with overdoses but which are yet still very likely to be fatal. It’s studies like these that make us realize how dangerous opioid use is. Even if addicts go to great lengths to protect themselves from overdoses, their lives are still at risk.

The long-term consequences of drug use are always dire. When people use drugs, it always harms them on a physical, psychological, behavioral, and spiritual level. That is simply the nature of drug use. Using drugs sets one on a dwindling spiral which is only halted by entering into a qualified drug treatment center and getting access to professional help.

What to Do if Your Loved One Is Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol

Holding hands.

Do you know someone who has fallen prey to a drug habit? Maybe your loved one is even being “cautious” with his drug use (something of an oxymoron, as there is no such thing as “cautious” drug use). But, for the sake of argument, say your loved one is being cautious to avoid an overdose. You still must impress upon them the danger of their situation. You need to show how they are at risk by the very nature of using drugs, no matter how cautious or conservative they are when using.

You have to work hard, persistently, and sometimes over some time to convince your loved one that he is gambling with his own life, that every time he uses drugs, he adds to the strain on his body, on his liver, his heart, his kidneys, his lungs, his brain, his nervous system.

There is no such thing as “healthy” or “safe” drug use. The only time a drug user becomes healthy or safe is when he seeks help from a residential drug-treatment center. In so doing, your loved one will have access to professional assistance, a safe and drug-free environment in which to live, and all the tools and counseling he needs to get clean and sober. If you know someone who is using drugs or misusing alcohol, do your best to get them into a treatment center today.


Reviewed and Edited by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, MCAP, RAS, MCAP



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.