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Opioid epidemic: Here's one more way it's costing hospitals millions

One hospital lost $3.5 million in a single year dealing with rising infection rates among patients taking cocaine, OxyContin, Demerol and Percocet.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

The number of patients hospitalized with endocarditis has increased dramatically over the last decade in a pattern that mirrors the increase in mixed drug use and in particular, opioids. And that increase has had a substantial cost on state and federal healthcare programs.

The rise of opioid abuse is a growing health crisis in the United States, particularly in areas hardest hit by the economic downturn, with an average of 115 Americans dying every day from drug overdoses, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Endocarditis is one of the most challenging and costly complications of the intravenous drug epidemic, as it's a rare, life-threatening bacterial infection that can destroy heart valves and spread throughout the body.

[Also: Opioid epidemic causing more hospitalizations, increasing hospital costs, study finds]

That has an impact on utilization. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said addicts with endocarditis are 10 times more likely than other patients to die or require a second surgery months after initially leaving the hospital.

A study monitoring a West Virginia hospital, in fact, found a total of 462 patients -- who'd been consuming cocaine, OxyContin, Demerol, Percocet and other opioids in large doses -- were hospitalized with infective endocarditis and simultaneous explicit drug use. Infective endocarditis cases increased from 26 in 2008 to 66 in 2015. 

What's more, most of the patient cases were uninsured (10.4 percent) or underinsured by federal and/or state programs (10.6 percent and 56.2 percent, respectively). 

Throughout the study period, the hospital billed $17.3 million but it's total reimbursement was only $3.8 million. In 2015 alone, the hospital lost $3.5 million to care for these patients. These increases in costs to the state of West Virginia and the hospital itself comes at a time of regional economic uncertainty and contracting hospital reimbursement.

The research team said it's working to find community-based solutions to the problem, and noted an interest in further analyzing the benefits of intensive preventive measures through heat mapping -- such as selecting communities for needle exchanges, creating various support groups, and educating users on the dangers of intravenous drug use.

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com

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