As the number of people who inject drugs and share needles has soared, the rate of infection with hep C has climbed, too. Yet many drug treatment patients aren’t tested for the liver-damaging virus.
When people seek help at a drug treatment center for an opioid addiction, concerns about having contracted hepatitis C are generally low on their list.
They’ve often reached a crisis point in their lives, says Marie Sutton, the CEO of Imagine Hope, a consulting group that provides staff training and technical assistance to facilitate testing for the liver-damaging virus at more than 30 drug treatment centers in Georgia.
“They just want to handle [their drug problem],” Sutton says. “Sometimes they don’t have the bandwidth to take on too many other things.”
And although health care facilities that serve people who use drugs are well-positioned to initiate screening, studies show that often doesn’t happen.
It’s an enormous missed opportunity, say public health specialists.
“It’s a disease that can be cured the moment we identify somebody,” says Tom Nealon, president and CEO of the American Liver Foundation. “Not testing is incomprehensible when you look at what hepatitis C does to their bodies and their livers.”
As the number of people who inject drugs has soared, the rate of infection with hepatitis C — which is frequently tied to sharing needles — has climbed steeply, too.
People with a hepatitis C infection can go for years without symptoms, so may have no inkling they’re sick. That delayed onset makes screening important, say health researchers, since infected people may unwittingly infect others.
Still, while screening people who misuse drugs can break the cycle of transmission, public health advocates say a number of obstacles — a lack of money, staff or other resources — may keep substance abuse facilities from going that route.
|Read on: Screening For Hepatitis C Virus Lags At Drug Treatment Clinics|