28 JUNE 2019Researchers around the country are scrambling to understand these outbreaks, but lack solid data on case numbers.
Opioid addiction kills tens of thousands of people every year in the United States and the trend shows no signs of slowing. Now, public-health officials are worried about a surge in bacterial and viral infections linked to opioid abuse that threatens to compound the crisis.
This surge includes in unprecedented rise in bacterial infections — including those caused by Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium that’s frequently resistant to antibiotics — and a spike in new cases of HIV and hepatitis associated with injecting opioids that threatens to undo decades of progress in corralling these diseases.
Research groups around the country are working to understand, identify and treat these outbreaks. But the lack of solid data on the number of new cases, and where they’ll crop up next, as well as stigma associated with drug use that can prevent people with infections from seeking early treatment, is hindering efforts.
“This is like HIV all over again,” says Judith Feinberg, an infectious-disease physician at West Virginia University in Morgantown, comparing the current crisis to the HIV epidemic that dominated US public health efforts in the 1980-90s. “People are stigmatized; they don’t feel they deserve to live. They hear people say it’s a lifestyle choice.”
Over the past 20 years, the use of opioids, including prescription pain medications, heroin and synthetic drugs such as fentanyl, has skyrocketed in the United States. As of 2017, there were roughly 15 opioid-overdose-related deaths per 100,000 people in the country, compared with 3 per 100,000 in 1999, according to estimates from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
TO CONTINUE STORY: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02019-3