The Center for Diseases Control’s (CDC) finding that heroin use rose nationwide almost 150% in 2007 – 2013 seems to correspond with the 273% increase in Hepatitis C in 2009 – 2013.
Time out for a quickie Hepatitis refresher:
– Hepatitis A, transmitted by person-to-person via contaminated food or water, is treatable by vaccine;
– Hepatitis B, transmitted via bodily fluids, is treatable by vaccine;
– Hepatitis C, transmitted chiefly by needle-sharing and to a lesser extent by unprotected sex or other contact with infected blood, is NOT treatable by vaccine.
More than 3 million people in the U. S. are infected by Hepatitis C, America’s most common blood-borne infection. Hepatitis C is experienced in either the acute (short term) form or chronic (long-term) form and can cause liver cancer, liver failure and other serious consequences, including death.
There are new treatments for Hepatitis C but they are expensive. For example, Harvoni is the chief drug for treating Hepatitis C but costs $1,300/pill. Despite the great expense of new treatments for Hepatitis C, making them unattainable for many sufferers, approximately 48,000 prescriptions per month were filled in early 2015.
The parallel rise in heroin intravenous use and Hepatitis C has led public health experts to advocate needle exchange programs to reduce the sharing of dirty needles between heroin users. However, instituting/maintaining such programs is difficult due to:
– the high incidence of heroin use in rural areas;
– cutbacks in healthcare budgets;
– many states’ unwillingness to fund such programs;
– the federal ban on funding for such programs.
Some states, such as California, have widespread needle exchange programs, and several other states have local health agencies and/or healthcare providers are allowing heroin users to exchange used needles for clean ones to considerably reduce the devastating, socially costly rise of Hepatitis C. California’s extensive needle exchange services can be accessed here: http://www.cdph.ca.gov/programs/aids/Documents/SASEPlist.pdf
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