It’s far more than overdoses: IV opioid users’ diseases overwhelm hospitals


Sarah Bolin’s heart infection got so bad last month, the longtime heroin user was passing out by the time she got to Cincinnati’s Christ Hospital. She was relieved the infection — called endocarditis — didn’t require her to get a pacemaker or replacement heart valve like so many other “girls on the streets.”

It did require surgery to remove lesions from infected valves, a 10-day hospital stay and weeks of IV antibiotics and nursing home care.

As opioid overdoses dominate headlines, more hidden casualties of intravenous drug use are overwhelming the hospitals tasked with treating them. Addiction clouds users’ judgment so much that patients thwart or reject treatment for their infectious and other diseases. And hospitals, taxpayers and people with commercial insurance foot the bill for repeated return visits that can cost from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year per patient.

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