The ongoing opioid epidemic is creating more problems than just overdose deaths. Now the CDC is warning that increased injection drug use is a major contributor in the 294% increase in hepatitis C virus (HCV) rates between 2010 and 2015.
The CDC estimated there were about 33,900 new cases of HCV in 2015. The CDC analyzed the reasons behind this sharp increasing HCV rates, and found that the increase “is largely attributed to injection drug use.” Strengthening health laws and policies that reduce transmission risks is key to decreasing these numbers, according to the CDC report that analyzed current data and laws.
"These new infections are most frequently among young people who transition from taking prescription pills to injecting heroin, which has become cheaper and more easily available in some cases," John Ward, MD, one of the report’s authors told CNN. "In turn many—most, in some communities—people who inject drugs become infected with hepatitis C."
The report analyzed data from all 50 states, looking at rates of HCV transmission as well as laws relating to access to clean needles. These laws authorization of syringe exchange programs, the scope of drug paraphernalia laws, and retail sale of needles and syringes. The states were then ranked based on how comprehensive those laws were.
The report looked for a correlation between states that have more explicit laws providing easy and legal access to needles and states with lower rates of HCV transmission. The data show no direct connection, but the report says that this may be due to recent laws being enacted in response to higher rates of HCV transmission. For example, of the three states with the highest HCV rates— Kentucky, Massachusetts, and West Virginia—West Virginia had less comprehensive laws while Massachusetts and West Virginia have more comprehensive laws.
Nonetheless, the report believes that to “promote HCV prevention, state laws can facilitate access to clean injection equipment, and other services for persons who inject drugs and, thereby be an effective tool to reduce the risk for transmission and stop the increasing incidence of HCV infection in communities, particularly those most affected by the nation’s current opioid epidemic.”
Read the whole report here.