The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released information last month about the increased incidence of Hepatitis C in four states: Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Virginia. From 2006 until 2013, acute Hep C cases in those states increased by 364%, in people younger than 30 years old. Seventy-three percent of those new cases occurring in people who injected drugs. The incidence in non-urban areas rose more than in urban areas.
Because many new Hep C infections occur in patients who have few symptoms, the incidence reported by the CDC likely underestimated the true number of true cases.
The authors of the study reminded us that HIV is transmitted the same way as Hep C, and increased incidence of HIV could potentially increase as well. The authors emphasized the importance of making effective addiction treatment available for intravenous drug users, as well as preventive efforts to stop the spread of infectious diseases like HIV and Hep C.
These facts are scary. The surge in opioid addiction over the last fifteen years could be followed by a surge in HIV and Hepatitis C infections. In a recent post (May 7, 2015), I described a micro-epidemic of HIV in a small Indiana town, where 140 new HIV cases were diagnosed in a town of only 4200 people. I don’t want to see this happen again and again in small towns in the U.S.
Let’s learn from the 1980’s, when the AIDS epidemic first emerged. The U.S. did not strongly and immediately support measures that could have limited the spread of this disease. Think how many cases could have been prevented with good information, condoms, needle exchange, and addiction treatment.
Let’s not wait until the situation worsens to do something. We must get serious about harm reduction measures and increased access to addiction treatment.
Needle exchange, where intravenous drug users are provided with clean needle in exchange for used needles, reduces the risk of infectious diseases like HIV and Hep C. Naloxone kits can reverse otherwise fatal opioid overdose deaths. Of course, the ultimate harm reduction measure readily available addiction treatment for addicts who want it.
I know many people at federal and state levels are aware of this problem and have been working on it. Let’s help change happen by giving harm reduction measures our support. For more reading on harm reduction, check out this website: http://www.nchrc.org
This is our excellent harm reduction organization here in North Carolina. Click on the “Advocacy” tab to find out what you can do to help.
Even if you don’t care about what happens to drug addicts, it is in your personal best interest to keep other people in our population from contracting infectious diseases that can affect us all.