Opioid epidemic is increasing rates of infectious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis

The report is co-authored by officials of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine


                            Opioid epidemic is increasing rates of infectious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis

The United States has a converging health crisis on its hands as the country's opioid epidemic is fuelling an increasing rate of some infectious diseases like hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, heart infections, soft tissue, and skin infections, according to a new report in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

The report is co-authored by 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.

Syringes and paraphernalia used by drug users litter an alley way in Walsall Town Centre on December 06, 2018 in Walsall, England. (Getty Images)
Syringes and paraphernalia used by drug users litter an alley way in Walsall Town Centre on December 06, 2018 in Walsall, England. (Getty Images)

Nearly 400,000 people in the US have fatally overdosed on opioid-containing drugs since 1999. The nation registered 47,600 deaths in 2017 alone. People with opioid use disorder (OUD), who were initially prescribed oral drugs to alleviate their pain, are now injecting prescribed or illegal opioids.

The report states that such high-risk injection practices, including needle-sharing, has initiated an increase in the number of infectious diseases in the country. Risky sexual behavior linked with injection drug has also contributed significantly to the spread of sexually transmitted infections, National Institutes of Health reported.

The country has seen a steady surge in hepatitis C virus (HCV) cases since 2010, including the doubling of the number of reports of pregnant women getting infected with the virus. According to Jonathan Mermin, MD, MPH, Director, National Center for HIV/AIDS, the rise in such cases is associated with injection drug use and sharing of needles.

A man uses heroin under a bridge where he lives with other addicts in the Kensington section which has become a hub for heroin use on January 24, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Getty Images)
A man uses heroin under a bridge where he lives with other addicts in the Kensington section which has become a hub for heroin use on January 24, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Getty Images)

The report has called on infectious disease and substance use disorder professionals to work together in an effort to address the problem.

The authors have written that these professionals can play a crucial role in treating a person's injection drug-use linked infection along with connecting the patient for treatment of their underlying OUD.

The experts can, for example, couple opioid and therapy like methadone, with treatment for HIV or hepatitis C, which can reduce opioid use and can prevent those viruses from spreading further. The authors concluded that a comprehensive treatment can result in positive results for both the underlying OUD and infectious disease.

The report also advised substance use health providers to screen their patients for any unrecognized infectious diseases and to consult with the infectious disease experts on how to reach a comprehensive treatment plan to reach better results. The study also called on substance use disorder professionals to direct patients to syringe service programs (SSPs). The programs, designed for patients, can significantly decrease injection-related risks.