Hepatitis C rate increases are linked to the opioid epidemic.
The White House has declared opioid abuse a national public health emergency. But it’s also fueling another epidemic: a rise in hepatitis C.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control say that the number of new hepatitis C infections has tripled since 2010. About 3.5 million people in the U.S. have the disease, which is most often spread through intravenous drug use.
Needle exchanges are being promoted as an effective tool to prevent further spread of the infection, but public health advocates in Maine say the state doesn’t have nearly enough of them.
This is the first in a three-part series.
It’s easy to pass by the needle exchange in Bangor without noticing it — and that’s kind of the idea. The people who come here don’t want to draw unwanted attention. They use intravenous drugs, and they come to this unmarked brick building just a few blocks from the heart of downtown to exchange dirty needles for clean ones.
It’s summer, and staff member Gretchen Ziemer is helping a woman we’ll call Sara with new syringes and other supplies. Sara and her husband have been using the needle exchange off and on during periods of relapse for about a year.
“We come here because it’s safe,” she says. “I’m sure it’s saved our life on many occasions.”
Using intravenous drugs and sharing or reusing needles put Sara and her husband at risk for contracting viruses that are spread through blood, such as HIV or hepatitis C.
“I have children that I want to be there for, even though not every choice that I make is a good choice,” she says.
Hepatitis C is a liver infection. When people first contract it, they don’t usually have any symptoms. That’s why most infections become chronic, which leads to liver disease and cancer.
|Read Full Article: ‘I’d Probably Be Dead’ — How Needle Exchanges Help IV Drug Users Avoid Hepatitis C Infection | Maine Public|