November 8, 2022
A report from the New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition released last week has found that hospital charges for injection drug use-related infections totaled more than $1.0 billion dollars in New Jersey in 2019. This cost stems from more than 7,130 New Jersey residents who were hospitalized for injection-related bacterial and skin infections, and the 283 residents who died from these infections. As highlighted in a press release from the New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition, the costs associated with the treatment of these thousands of injection-related bacterial and skin infections is enough to fully fund two syringe service programs in every municipality in New Jersey.
The primary author of the report, Michael Enich, MD/PhD Candidate at Rutgers University, and Trustee at the New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition, was quoted in the press release saying, "As a medical student, I see far too many people who inject drugs hospitalized with debilitating illnesses that are potentially preventable . . . As an outreach volunteer, I hear all the time from people who don't want to go to the hospital because of their poor experiences seeking medical care in the past. When people who inject drugs have access to new, sterile syringes for every injection and non-stigmatizing health services to treat infections early, we can help save lives. These almost 300 deaths were potentially preventable."
The report found that Black New Jersey residents were 1.5 times more likely to be hospitalized for severe bacterial infections than White New Jersey residents, despite using drugs at the same rate. As reported on njspotlightnews.com, it was noted that the stigma associated with people who use drugs is a potential factor impacting their ability to receive wound care before significant infection develops.
Caitlin O'Neill, report author and Co-Founder and Director, Harm Reduction Services, New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition, was quoted saying, "It's hard for the layperson to understand just how hard it is for people with an injection-related wound to seek medical care for a wound." She continued, "The numbers in this report are not abstract for me. I've been to people's funerals, and I've seen grieving families left to rationalize how their loved one could die from such a preventable cause. It is beyond time for New Jersey to invest in a robust continuum of care for people who inject drugs, from syringe access programs to hospitals that embrace the best practices in healthcare for people who use drugs, like medication for managing withdrawal symptoms. There is no such thing as a disposable human being, and our policies must reflect that."
The report concludes with a number of recommendations for New Jersey to prevent severe bacterial infections and advance health for individuals who use drugs. These recommendations include:
- Adding injection-related bacterial infection morbidity and mortality indicators to state reporting dashboards.
- Fully funding and implementing accessible syringe service programs.
- Supporting harm reduction programs that include safer snorting and smoking supplies as risk reduction strategies.
- Increasing harm reduction infrastructure in emergency departments and hospitals.
- Decriminalizing drug possession and use.
- Providing training to healthcare providers to reduce stigma against people who use drugs.
Another of the report authors, Clair Marie Kemp, was also quoted in the press release saying, "Our data creates a clear picture. Failure to address treatable infections that arise from injection-related drug use cost the State of New Jersey $1 billion dollars in 2019 . . . We can support our loved ones, invest taxpayer dollars elsewhere, and lower the burden on hospitals by understanding and critically attending to the healthcare issues unique to people who use drugs at the first point of contact. These failures can be fixed."