Injecting Drugs Can Ruin A Heart. How Many Second Chances Should A User Get?


By Abby Goodnough

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A life-threatening heart infection afflicts a growing number of people who inject opioids or meth. Costly surgery can fix it, but the addiction often goes unaddressed.

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — Jerika Whitefield’s memories of the infection that almost killed her are muddled, except for a few. Her young children peering at her in the hospital bed. Her stepfather wrapping her limp arms around the baby. Her whispered appeal to a skeptical nurse: “Please don’t let me die. I promise, I won’t ever do it again.”

Ms. Whitefield, 28, had developed endocarditis, an infection of the heart valves caused by bacteria that entered her blood when she injected methamphetamine one morning in 2016. Doctors saved her life with open-heart surgery, but before operating, they gave her a jolting warning: If she continued shooting up and got reinfected, they would not operate again.

With meth resurgent and the opioid crisis showing no sign of abating, a growing number of people are getting endocarditis from injecting the drugs — sometimes repeatedly if they continue shooting up. Many are uninsured, and the care they need is expensive, intensive and often lasts months. All of this has doctors grappling with an ethically fraught question:…click here to continue reading