Serious Bacterial Infection Linked To Injection Drug Use

By Beth Leipholtz 06/18/18

According to a new study, the number of MRSA cases in those who use injection drugs more than doubled from 2011 to 2016.

hospital staff rushing patient in gurney down hospital hallway

Those who use inject illicit drugs may be at risk of more than an overdose, as new government data claims that such individuals are more susceptible to a potentially fatal infection.

Individuals who use heroin or other injection drugs are 16 times more susceptible to develop infections or illnesses from MRSA, a dangerous bacteria. 

MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is an infection caused by a type of staph bacteria, the Mayo Clinic reports. However, unlike other forms of staph, it does not respond well to antibiotics, making it more dangerous.

"Drug use has crept up and now accounts for a substantial proportion of these very serious infections," said Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University, according to CBS News

While other studies have shown that HIV and hepatitis C have spread among injection drug users, this is the first study to focus on this type of bacteria, referred to as a “superbug,” according to CBS.

Although MRSA can be found on people’s skin, it does not tend to become dangerous until it enters the bloodstream, CBS notes. Health officials estimate that about 11,000 deaths per year in the U.S. are due to MRSA and that while the rate of infection in hospitals and nursing homes has decreased, the rate in those using illicit drugs continues to rise.

Dr. Isaac See of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), also a study author, states that MRSA "is on the skin, and as the needle goes into the skin it brings the bacteria with it,” according to CBS.

According to the study's findings, the number of MRSA cases that involved those who use injection drugs more than doubled from 2011 to 2016, from 4% to 9%. 

According to the news outlet, this study took into account MRSA infections at hospitals in Connecticut and in parts of California, Georgia, Minnesota, New York and Tennessee. Of the approximately 39,000 cases, about 2,100 were from individuals who had used injection drugs. 

Study authors note that if the amount of people using injection drugs continues to rise as will the number of MRSA cases, this could be detrimental to efforts being made to curb the crisis.

“Increases in nonsterile injection drug use are likely to result in increases in the occurrence of invasive MRSA infections among persons who inject drugs, underscoring the importance of public health measures to curb the opioid epidemic,” study authors wrote.

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.