Increased injection drug use has led to a spike in cases of the life-threatening heart condition endocarditis, with cases rapidly accelerating since the onset of Covid-19.
The increased case count is one of the lesser-known side effects of the deadly addiction epidemic. But patients with endocarditis, an inflammation of the heart lining caused by infection, require complex, thoughtful care — care that the U.S. health system is ill-equipped to provide.
With drug deaths hovering at an all-time high and endocarditis cases among drug users up nearly tenfold in the last decade, physicians, researchers, and health officials have begun to confront the problem with more urgency. In particular, doctors are coming to terms with a basic reality: Their hospitals often have few protocols for treating endocarditis patients who use opioids and the withdrawal they’ll likely experience upon admission.