Reducing Infections in Opioid Users

The New York Times published an article about the high infection rate due to injection drug use in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  The district that I am running for, 89, borders Oak Ridge, TN.  Months ago, I spoke with a healthcare provider who told me all about the high rate of infections due to drug use at her hospital and that physicians are tired of dealing with it.  This article confirms the information I already knew.

Anyone injecting drugs is at increased risk of becoming infected, especially if they do not use clean needles.  What we are seeing at hospitals in our area is a high rate of endocarditis (an infection of heart valves caused by bacteria in blood).  We also have a high rate of MRSA, sepsis, and Hepatitis C. UT Medical center had 284 patients between mid-August and Mid-April that were infected with endocarditis and soft tissue and bone infections.

The cost to treat endocarditis is $150,000.  Many addicts are uninsured (163,000 in TN) or like the patient featured in the article, are on TennCare (Medicaid) because she has children.  Apparently, physicians in this area have decided that they will only operate once for an addict that has endocarditis.  If a patient continues to abuse drugs and develops endocarditis again, the physicians will not operate and will instead give the patient antibiotics and send them home to die.

Dr. Pollard, the physician featured in the article, has tried to combat this particular problem by creating a physician and hospital coalition to try and provide treatment services for patients who have just received heart surgery.  To date, no one has signed on to the plan.  I don’t blame them because the plan is flawed.

The problem here is infections due to injecting drugs.  The only way to combat infections is to fund, provide, and promote clean needle exchanges. “We have to help the living,” Colton Wooten.  In most of the articles I have read about addiction, most addicts are trying to recover. Addiction is a disease that effects the brain, making recovery quite difficult for most.  I fear we are not helping the living by not treating their re-occurring infections and not giving them any options to prevent the infections.

The most troubling aspect of this article is that physicians have decided not to continue to care for relapsed endocarditis patients.  Didn’t these doctors pledge to “Do No Harm”?  If they are going to give up and stop treating these patients then the least they can do is provide clean needle exchanges.

Tennessee allows clean needle exchanges and to date, only one needle exchange affiliated with the North American Syringe Exchange Network exists in Nashville.  Tennessee does not fund or promote clean needle exchanges but it is time we started.  As the representative from district 89, I plan to promote and fund clean needle exchanges and we will end infections caused by opioids in Tennessee!

Goodnough, A (2018, April 29). Injecting drugs can ruin a heart. How many second chances should a user get? The New York Times. Retrieved April 30, 2018 from


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