US Opioid Epidemic Leads To More HIV, Heart And Skin Infections

Researchers are calling on health and substance use professionals across the U.S. to collaborate and address the ongoing public health crisis caused by the rise of opioid use. A new report shows that the opioid epidemic has been contributing to the sudden increase of certain infectious diseases in the country. 

Officials from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore published the report in the Journal of Infectious Diseases

The article highlights the growing number of HIV, AIDS, hepatitis, heart infections and skin and soft tissue infections due to sharing of needles used for drug injections by people with opioid use disorder (OUD). Risky sexual behaviors also contributed to the surge in infectious diseases, particularly those sexually transmitted, EurekAlert reported Wednesday

Since 1999, nearly 400,000 people in the U.S. overdosed on opioid-containing drugs. Nearly 48,000 of these deaths occured in 2017 alone. 

Opioid Epidemic: The Solution

Infectious disease health professionals and substance use disorder health providers both can help address the impact of the epidemic. These experts can help patients connect to find appropriate treatment for their underlying OUD. 

Substance use experts can also screen patients for unrecognized infectious diseases and consult with their infectious disease colleagues to create a treatment plan. Health professionals should allow the use of a combination of opioid agonist therapy with treatment for HIV, hepatitis C and other diseases to prevent further transmission and reduce opioid use at the same time.

The officials from NIAID and the University of Maryland School of Medicine said such collaboration could help provide improved outcomes for both the infectious disease and opioid use disorder across the U.S.

“An integrated strategy is needed to tailor preventive and therapeutic approaches towards infectious diseases in people who misuse and/or are addicted to opioids and to concurrently address the underlying pre-disposing factor for the infections – opioid use disorder,” they said.

The federal government also recently introduced new resources to address the growing opioid epidemic. The government aims to help health professionals improve and implement coordinated, evidence-based strategies to prevent and treat OUD and opioid-associated infections.