Infections of Hepatitis C, a contagious liver infection spread by blood contact, has more than tripled in Appalachia – Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia – fueled by prescription drug abuse in rural areas. About 73% of patients are under age 30 and injected drugs. The infection rate has more than doubled from 2010 to 2013. Baby Boomers should get tested because of many undiagnosed cases from those growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. Two thirds of cases are long term and chronic infections, causing liver damage and death. A new drug cures 90% of patients, but is very expensive – a 12 week course of treatment.
Hepatitis C is concentrated in rural areas with high opioid abuse. Over 4.5 million Americans abused prescription painkillers in 2013 and 289,000 used heroin. Heroin is cheaper and easier to get. More than 20,000 Americans die from hepatitis C each year, more than die from AIDS. The CDC is concerned about HIV infections, which also spread with contaminated needles. Abuse of prescription painkillers has caused an outbreak of HIV in rural Indiana, and the Governor called for a one-month syringe exchange for clean needles.
There is great need for testing, medical care, and treatment services at substance abuse treatment centers. Needle exchanges dramatically cut the rate of HIV transmission among injection drug users. HIV cases dropped from 52% to 3% where needle exchanges were available. These exchanges also offer counseling, disease testing, and referrals to treatment locations. Offering more needle exchanges will reduce hepatitis and HIV infections. Prevention and treatment are necessary in combatting the opioid epidemic.
Szabo, Liz. “Hepatitis C infections soaring, fueled by prescription painkiller abuse.” News. USA Today, 8 May 2015. Web. 10 May 2015.
Steenhuysen, Julie. “Hepatitis C rates jump in four central Appalachian states: CDC.” Health. Reuters, 7 May 2015. Web. 10 May 2015.