Incidence and Treatment Costs of Severe Bacterial Infections Among People Who Inject Heroin

A Cohort Study in South London, England

Published in: Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Volume 212 (July 2020). doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2020.108057

Posted on on May 19, 2020

by Dan Lewer, Vivian D. Hope, Magdalena Harris, Michael Kelleher, Amelia Jewell, Megan Pritchard, John Strang, Katherine I. Morley

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People who inject drugs often get bacterial infections. Few longitudinal studies have reported the incidence and treatment costs of these infections.


For a cohort of 2335 people who inject heroin entering treatment for drug dependence between 2006 and 2017 in London, England, we reported the rates of hospitalisation or death with primary causes of cutaneous abscess, cellulitis, phlebitis, septicaemia, osteomyelitis, septic arthritis, endocarditis, or necrotising fasciitis. We compared these rates to the general population. We also used NHS reference costs to calculate the cost of admissions.


During a median of 8.0 years of follow-up, 24 % of patients (570/2335) had a severe bacterial infection, most commonly presenting with cutaneous abscesses or cellulitis. Bacterial infections accounted for 13 % of all hospital admissions. The rate was 73 per 1000 person-years (95 % CI 69–77); 50 times the general population, and the rate remained high throughout follow-up. The rate of severe bacterial infections for women was 1.50 (95 % CI 1.32–1.69) times the rate for men. The mean cost per admission was £4980, and we estimate that the annual cost of hospital treatment for people who inject heroin in London is £4.5 million.


People who inject heroin have extreme and long-term risk of severe bacterial infections.

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