Opioid Addiction and Health Complications

Upset patient with a doctor.

We’ve heard the story time and time again regarding drug overdoses and fatalities. We know that drug use is highly dangerous because it is highly fatal. But what about the other, ancillary health problems that come about from using drugs? These often do not get as much attention as the sheer fatalities of drug use do.

And that’s understandable. The lethal implications of drug use are by far the most concerning factor. But there are other factors that can come about, too, such as illnesses, diseases, infections, viruses, as well as non-physical effects such as, destroyed families, homelessness, loss of work leading to need for government assistance, etc.. These cause terrible problems and bad predicaments for those affected by them. HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, and Infective Endocarditis are just three examples.

Consider this. Many of the above examples are health problems that can occur because of IV drug use. As they do not fall under the category of drug overdoses, they do not garner the kind of media attention that they should. And media attention is vital because these illnesses can lead to fatal conditions.


It has been known for some time that there is a connection between HIV/AIDS and IV drug use. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publishes some useful information. According to their reports, 2015 saw 6% of the 39,513 diagnoses of HIV in the United States as being directly attributed to IV drug use. That comes out to about 2,392 cases of HIV that occurred because of drug users sharing syringes—thus allowing the virus to be transmitted on the needle of the syringe.

As for AIDS, the more advanced stage of the HIV virus, there were 18,303 diagnoses in 2015. 10% of them, or 1,804 cases, were directly attributed to someone who had been using drugs intravenously.

Also according to the CDC, if we don’t do something about HIV and IV drug use and make real efforts to resolve these problems, they will certainly get worse. The CDC estimates that 1 in 23 women and 1 in 36 men who inject drugs will be diagnosed with HIV at some point in their lifetime.

“People who inject drugs are 22 times more at risk of HIV compared with the general population. This risk arises particularly from sharing needles and injection equipment but is reinforced through criminalization, marginalization, and poverty.”

As a final note on HIV and IV drug use, the Avert writers state that “People who inject drugs are 22 times more at risk of HIV compared with the general population. This risk arises particularly from sharing needles and injection equipment but is reinforced through criminalization, marginalization, and poverty.”

While intravenous drug use is not the primary cause of HIV/AIDS, it is undoubtedly a predominant factor. We have to keep this in mind whenever we are addressing a matter of national health. And no matter what, we must reduce IV drug use statistics.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis test hand.

Hepatitis C is a severe liver disease. It can be caught early and remedied into remission. However, most people who have it don’t even know that they have it, and so they miss their early window for treating it. Hepatitis C is a blood-borne infection, so coming into contact with infected blood is all it takes to become infected with the virus.

A common way for hepatitis C to spread is through the sharing of drug use needles. The CDC offers information on this, also discussing the other ways in which the virus can spread. Because the virus is so easy to contract, health experts strongly advise anyone to never use an IV needle that had already been used by someone else.

Infective Endocarditis

Most of what was discussed above has been gone over a few times in scientific circles and is pretty well known. But in this section, we find out about an entirely new classification of infection that comes about from IV drug use.

Research furnished by the Weill Cornell Medical Center and Columbia University Medical Center in New York City shed new light on a dire connection between injection drug use and incidences of stroke. According to the research, the rate of hospitalizations for stroke rose significantly. They reported about a 20 percent increase per year, every year from 2008 to 2015. Coincidentally, the opioid crisis also worsened considerably during that same time period.

The theory behind the connection of IV drug use and stroke is a simple one. When a drug user injects heroin or other opioids, the drugs will enter the bloodstream rapidly. However, this is not the only chemical that comes in. All kinds of bacteria, contaminants, toxic chemicals, additives, and so on are also brought into the bloodstream. The result? These germs travel via the bloodstream to the heart, infecting, inflaming, or slowing heart valves. This is called endocarditis.

The research shows that between 1993 and 2015, nearly 5,300 patients were hospitalized for a stroke that had been partially caused by opioids. On a per capita basis, that’s a difference of 2.4 cases per 10 million people in 1993 and 18.8 cases per 10 million people in 2015.

And how do complications of the heart lead to a stroke, which is an issue with the brain? It’s straightforward. Once endocarditis takes place in the heart due to injected opioid contaminants, those contaminants build up, causing heart problems. Then, some of the pollutants break off and travel through the bloodstream to the brain. Once in the brain, the contaminants become lodged in the brain, which causes a stroke.

In the words of Dr. Setareh Salehi Omran, one of the study authors, "People need to be more aware that stroke can be a devastating complication of injecting opioids. … All of this parallels the rise in heroin overdose-related complications and deaths, which tripled between 2010 and 2015."

So there’s a connection between strokes and IV drug use. An entirely new reason not to use drugs.

Drug-Free Living Is the Best Living

Happy friend in sunny park.

We live in a society that is rife with diseases, illnesses, infections, viruses and so on. Why increase one’s chances of falling in with such a terrible sickness?

The drug-free lifestyle is genuinely the best type of living that one could desire. When people commit to a drug-free life, they are making a conscious decision to live healthy and happy, and to be a betterment to those around them, rather than a detriment.


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



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.