In recent years treatments for the life threatening virus hepatitis C have come a long way, being significantly more effective than the previous medications used. Yet despite advances in hep C treatment, people are dying from the virus at an all time high, CNN reports. In 2014, there were 19,659 deaths from complications related to hepatitis C, compared to 11,051 in 2003. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that more people lost their lives to hep C in 2014, more than deaths related to HIV and another 59 infectious diseases combined.
As you may have already surmised, on top of a rise in deaths related to the illness, there has also been a spike in new hepatitis C cases. Between 2010 and 2014, new cases of the virus more than doubled, according to the article. The uptick is directly linked to an increase in intravenous drug use, typically involving prescription opioids and/or heroin. People engaging in IV drug use are already rather nondiscriminatory, but to make things worse people with the infectious disease often times do not show symptoms until the later stages of progression. Naturally, sharing needles always carries a risk, although addicts are usually less inclined to share if the person they are sharing with appears to be ill.
“Due to limited screening and underreporting, we estimate the number of new infections is closer to 30,000 per year,” said Dr. John Ward, director of CDC’s division of viral hepatitis. “So both deaths and new infections are on the rise.”
In response to the hepatitis C outbreaks occurring in various parts of the country, lawmakers who were historically opposed to needle exchange programs have begun to sing a different tune. There has been a long held misconception that needle exchange programs promote IV drug use, but the reality is actually something quite different.
Such programs help prevent the spread of infectious diseases which can save community health care systems millions of dollars each year. What’s more, addicts rarely come in contact with doctors, nurses and especially addiction counselors. Needle exchange programs provide a perfect opportunity to discuss addiction recovery with those who are coming in to swap out their dirty needles for clean ones. Even if individuals are not ready for recovery yet, a seed can be planted and they will know where to go when they are ready for help.