Prescription Painkiller Abuse Fuels Hepatitis C Infections: CDC Report

Prescription painkiller abuse is largely to blame for a big increase in the rate of hepatitis C among young people in rural areas of four states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Acute hepatitis C infections more than tripled from 2007 to 2012 among young people in rural areas in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. About 73 percent of those hepatitis C patients said they injected drugs, USA Today reports. Injecting drugs can spread the hepatitis C virus when people share needles.

“We’re in the midst of a national epidemic of hepatitis C,” said John Ward, Director of Viral Hepatitis Prevention at the CDC. More than 20,000 Americans die from hepatitis C a year, which is more than the number who die from AIDS, Ward said. He added, “The CDC views hepatitis C as an urgent public health problem.”

In March, Indiana Governor Mike Pence declared a public health emergency as the state battles an outbreak of HIV linked to intravenous use of the painkiller Opana. The governor authorized a short-term program in one county to exchange used needles for sterile ones, to reduce the risk of contaminated needles being shared. Last week, Pence signed a law that extends the program, allowing Indiana localities with health emergencies to begin their own needle exchanges.

About two-thirds of acute hepatitis C infections turn into long-term chronic infections, which can damage the liver and cause liver cancer and death, the article notes. The newly approved drug Sovaldi cures 90 percent of hepatitis C cases, but costs $84,000 for 12 weeks of treatment.

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    R. Sexton

    May 20, 2015 at 10:31 AM

    I work in public health. Hep. C is an epidemic. The “painkillers” that the addict injects is the reason. If the addict was not addicted then they would not be IVD users. We as a nation need to help prevent the spread of this disease. If you were an IV drug user, and needed to get high ,dangerous consequences doesn’t matter to them at the moment. I believe we need to have needle exchange and use that as an opportunity to reach the addict and offer help.

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    Janet Terry, LMSW, CAADC, CCS

    May 14, 2015 at 2:17 PM

    Although I agree the headline could have been more appropriate to the content of the story, I doubt that diabetics and those who are using antibiotics are sharing needles, unless they are also IV drug users. Just saying. We do need to continue to spread the message that the over prescribing of opiates is a serious problem.

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    Billy, RPh, CACII

    May 12, 2015 at 1:42 PM

    Misleading title. I’m pretty sure its the contaminated needles that are doing the damage and not the substance that is being injected. Insulin or an antibiotic will have the same outcome. But why waste an opportunity to join the two “epidemics” and invent a “super-epidemic”? If you bother to read the fine print there is more to the problem than what the headline leads you to believe. Sad

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