Opioid crisis fueling sharp increases in hepatitis C infection in US, says study

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Opioid crisis fueling sharp increases in hepatitis C infection in US, says study

Opioid crisis fueling sharp increases in hepatitis C infection in US, says study

The perils of the opioid crisis in the United States has taken a new turn. Driven by the increased abuse of prescription opioids, heroin and other deadly synthetic opioids like fentanyl, the number of hepatitis C cases has tripled across the nation between 2010 and 2015, from 850 cases to 2,436 cases. Describing the true magnitude of the problem, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suspects the number to be as high as around 34,000 in 2015. According to the CDC, the prevalence of injections among young adults aged 20 to 29 years to abuse drugs has led to a spike in new hepatitis C infections.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne disease that spreads through the transmission of infected blood. Therefore, people using injections to abuse drugs stand a high risk for contracting hepatitis C infection. The surge in the number of people admitted in hospitals for opioid dependence who were primarily injecting drugs suggests the close association between opioid abuse and hepatitis C infection. Apart from hepatitis C, the sharing of needles escalates the risk of contracting other infections like human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

With the worsening of the opioid crisis in recent times, the underlying threat posed by hepatitis C infection exacerbated. The swelling incidence rates of hepatitis C infection have raised an alarm among the medical fraternity. As per the CDC, a 133 percent increase was recorded in acute hepatitis C cases in conjunction with a 93 percent rise in admissions for opioid injection from 2004 to 2014.  “Until recently, hepatitis C primarily affected older generations, but as the opioid crisis worsened, the virus gained a foothold among younger Americans,” mentioned the CDC. In the absence of noticeable symptoms, the infection remains undiagnosed until people develop severe liver problems and other complications

Eliminate hepatitis C infection by addressing opioid crisis

The increasing rates of hepatitis C infection was witnessed among the younger generation aged 18 to 39 due to the injection of prescription drugs and heroin between 2004 and 2014. The prevalence of heroin addiction in the U.S. is not new. Factors like cheap and easy availability influence many teenagers and young adults to try heroin. Therefore, youngsters, including women, are comparatively more at risk of hepatitis C infection than the older generation. As around 75 to 85 percent of infected users tend to develop chronic hepatitis C infection, it should be treated as a major health threat and enough preventive measures be undertaken to address the root cause, i.e. opioid abuse.

In the absence of treatment, hepatitis C can turn equally fatal by severely damaging the liver over a period of time, often progressing from inflammation into permanent, irreversible scarring (cirrhosis) or chronic liver disease. Since the awareness level for hepatitis C is abysmally low, the problem has worsened. In the wake of this problem, the CDC highlights the need for appropriate recovery services and screening measures to track both opioid abuse and hepatitis C infection. Moreover, treatment facilities need to be equipped take informed clinical decisions. The need of the hour is to conduct adequate research to alert the communities about such infectious diseases.

Curbing risky drug-seeking behaviors key to avoid dangerous infections

Until now, the health experts were worried about the spread of infections like HIV due to the injection of opioids. However, with the new findings in place, concerns regarding the diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis C infection have grown. The symptoms of hepatitis C often occur at the last stage when the damage is already done.

This makes the treating hepatitis C an expensive bet. However, the aforementioned recommendations of the CDC like comprehensive community-based opioid prevention programs, which would not only curb risky drug-seeking behaviors but also provide a range of testing, treatment and prevention services to track patients at a higher risk of developing hepatitis C infection. Hence, it is important to seek treatment for opioid addiction to diagnose any underlying infection.

If you or your loved one is suffering from opioid addiction, you can seek help from the Arizona Drug Addiction Helpline to know about the addiction treatment centers in Arizona. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-576-4147 or chat online with our experts to get in touch with the comprehensive treatment for drug addiction in Arizona.

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