Opioids, Needles and Disease: What Addiction Treatment Providers Need to Know

May 1, 2019

Opioid Use Disorder is a global problem – 147,600 US Citizens died of opioid overdose in 2017 alone. Many are concerned that Australia soon could also experience an epidemic on par with the US.

Infectious diseases, such as HIV (AIDS), Hepatitis C, skin infections, inflammation of the liver and heart infections are being contracted by opiate use disorder sufferers.  This can occur when prescribed or illegally obtained opioids are injected after sharing needles or solutions.

Injectable opioids may include Heroine, MorphineHydromorphone and Fentanyl.  Opiates can be injected under the skin or into the veins.  Most addicts prefer to inject directly to the vein as this delivers the quickest high.

Infographic Source: https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates

Contracting blood borne illnesses that are life threatening is a frequent co-occurring issue for those injecting opioids.  If and when, the individual seeks medical care for the presenting disease symptoms (HIV, Hepatitis, etc.) they are usually reluctant to share their addiction and drug habits with professionals.

Unfortunately, many doctors treat the presenting infectious disease but miss the possible underlying substance abuse problem.  Also, addiction treatment programs often fail to screen their clients for infectious diseases.  Collaboration between physicians and Addiction therapists, counselors and social workers can help identify possible infectious diseases by screening and conferring with infectious disease providers.

Substance Use Disorder providers should inform all clients of needle and syringe programs to substantially reduce their vulnerability to infectious diseases.  Access to sterile needles through Syringe Service Programs and Needle Exchange Programs can save lives.

The US Surgeon General’s Office has stated that syringe service programs reduce the spread of diseases and do not contribute to increased drug abuse.  Even if we believe our client is committed to recovery and unlikely to relapse, it is wise to provide this information to them, as an option should they need it.  It is about containing the spread of disease for society and protecting the health of the individual.


HIV/AIDS. (2018, December 13). Retrieved April 15, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/risk/ssps.html

Abdala, N., Grund, J. C., Tolstov, Y., Kozlov, A. P., & Heimer, R. (2006, May). Can home-made injectable opiates contribute to the HIV epidemic among injection drug users in the countries of the former Soviet Union? Retrieved April 15, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16669907

About the Author

Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC founded Addiction Hope® in January 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well-regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope®.

Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions (such as gambling, sex, shopping, etc).

Because she believes in holistic recovery that addresses all of the destructive patterns or behaviors engaged in by the individual, it became clear that it would be helpful to also have a site that deals foremost with addiction, for those that suffer from addiction as a primary concern.

Jacquelyn Ekern is a licensed therapist and she is President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. which operates both the Addiction Hope and Eating Disorder Hope organizations and websites.

Jacquelyn has a Bachelor of Science in Human Services degree from The University of Phoenix and a Masters degree in Counseling/Psychology, from Capella University.

Addiction Hope is a media partner of the 2019 Australian & New Zealand Addiction Conference. 

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