Hepatitis C Infections Growing Along With Opioid Crisis

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The number of new Hepatitis C cases is increasing, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The main driver behind this is the ongoing opioid epidemic the USA is facing, particularly heroin and other injection drugs.

Hepatitis C incidences have jumped by as much as 300% from 2010 to 2015. Despite existing treatments that can cure over 90% of these infections, the CDC says that Hepatitis C remains to be a dangerous health problem, NPR reports. For example, around 19,000 people died of Hepatitis C in 2013.

The report states,

Hepatitis C is associated with more deaths in the United States than 60 other infectious diseases reported to CDC combined.

The states that have been hit the hardest by the ongoing drug problem appeared to have the worst rates in Hepatitis C cases.

Seven states now have infection rates that are at least twice the national average: Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Tennessee and West Virginia. These same states have seen a significant rise in mortality due to drug overdoses in recent years.

The CDC says it is likely that these statistics are linked. “Injection drug use is the primary risk factor for new HCV infections,” the report states. The agency recommends that lawmakers “create and strengthen public health laws” in order to combat this trend.

Two ways to fight the disease is to improve public access to clean needles, such as syringe exchange programs, and decriminalize the possession of drug paraphernalia, the CDC explains. “State laws that increase access to syringe exchange programs and clean needles and syringes, and policies that facilitate access to HCV treatment through state Medicaid programs can reduce HCV transmission risk.”

As of now, only Massachusetts, New Mexico and Washington state have “comprehensive set of laws and a permissive Medicaid treatment policy that might affect access to both HCV preventive and treatment services for persons who inject drugs.”


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