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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A New Cure for Hepatitis C

Intravenous drug use is extremely dangerous, a behavior that can easily result in an overdose. Over the last several years, people in the United States have witnessed a dramatic rise in overdoses related to illicit opioid use, an epidemic that has been steadily getting worse. On top of the exponential rise of overdoses, there has also been a surge in infectious disease transmissions, such as HIV and hepatitis C.

While the aforementioned viruses are not a new problem, new cases were fairly minimal for a number of years. The American opioid epidemic, in conjunction with limited access to clean needles, has resulted in a number of new cases. In Indiana, Governor Mike Pence issued a state of emergency due to an outbreak of HIV tied IV Opana use, a prescription opioid. As a result, IV drug users can now acquire clean needles in the affected areas. Providing greater access to clean needles reduces the potential of infectious disease transmission. Needle exchanges give substance use disorder counselors an opportunity to discuss treatment options with addicts - which is great.

But, what about those who have already been infected? 

Unfortunately, a cure for HIV/AIDS has not been developed, but the medicines available today allow many of those infected to live longer lives. On the other hand, hepatitis C patients have options available now that can cure the disease at a high rate of success. An experimental drug, made by Merck & Co., cured 95 percent of 301 IV drug using patients living with hep C, Bloomberg Business reports.

Merck stated that 67 percent to 84 percent of IV drug users that are being treated with addiction medicine have been infected with hepatitis C, according to a Merck news release.

“Injection drug use is a major factor fueling the global hepatitis C crisis, yet people with chronic hepatitis C virus infection who inject drugs often remain overlooked and underserved,” said Dr. Ronald Nahass, president, ID CARE, New Jersey. “Patients in this study with chronic hepatitis C virus infection on opioid agonist therapy, including many who continued to use drugs during the trial, were able to complete treatment with elbasvir/grazoprevir and achieve high virologic cure rates.” 

The study findings were presented at The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases Annual Meeting.

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