SAN FRANCISCO: Abscesses Among Drug Addicts Reach Epidemic Levels
The number of heroin addicts with debilitating skin abscesses is on the rise in San Francisco, and health officials say that treatment is further stretching the city's financially strapped health care budget, the San Francisco Examiner reports. Many of the city's 17,000 injection drug users have no health insurance. Joshua Bamberger, the health department's medical director for special projects, estimates that treating serious abscesses costs San Francisco General between $20 million and $40 million annually. Abscesses have become the leading cause of admission to the hospital, and Dr. William Schecter, chief of surgery, said operating room doctors see five to eight abscesses requiring surgery on a daily basis. "The cost of caring for soft tissue infections related to injection drug use is astronomical," Schecter said. In addition, people with drug-related abscesses are occupying more hospital beds, filling up emergency rooms and siphoning off resources for other health issues. To combat the epidemic, officials have proposed a special clinic at San Francisco General that will handle nothing but abscesses. Officials hope that the clinic will relieve some of the burden in the emergency rooms. The health department also has expressed an interest in stationing nurses and doctors at needle exchange programs to treat some soft tissue infections before they become a larger problem. Bamberger estimates that the program could cost $1 million a year, but it may save the city nearly $20 million (Torassa, 1/3).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.