LONDON, ONT. -- It’s an opioid typically used in the medical field to treat pain called hydromorphone, but when injected it can cause a host of serious health issues.

“We already previously showed it’s a risk for HIV and we also found it’s a risk for hepatitis C," says Dr. Michael Silverman, associate scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute.

Now, the latest study on this drug conducted by both Western University and Lawson, has shown when taken by injection drug, users it’s three times more likely to cause a serious bacterial heart infection called endocarditis.

“This infection is devastating to the individual, to the health care system and to the community,” says Silverman, who adds that approximately 4,000 Canadians are suffering with endocarditis as a result of injection drug use.

“A third of people will die from it and many who survive will have damage to their heart valves that can leave them short of breath, difficulty functioning and will often need surgery, which is expensive.”

The study looked at the rising rates of endocarditis among injection drug users who specifically use controlled-release hydromorphone. It’s the slow release aspect that Silverman says is the issue because it’s harder for a user to break it down.

“They use a little bit of it and then they store it and reuse more and that allows it to be contaminated.”

He adds the drug also has chemical properties that allows it to easily store bacteria, that’s why it’s important to use the practice called 'cooking your wash' when it comes to injecting this drug.

Cooking the wash can be done by heating the cooker with a lighter until the wash bubbles which Silverman says reduces the number of bacterial properties in the solution.

But ultimately, Silverman says this study really highlights the importance of opioid substitution therapy and education surrounding empathy when it comes to addiction.

“We have to move away from stigma, because stigma kills.”