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Hepatitis C on the Rise in Young Drug Users

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that attacks the liver, leads to inflammation and can be deadly.  Public knowledge concerning hepatitis C is much lower than other transmittable diseases, such as HIV (Mayo Clinic Staff). Researchers from the University of California-San Francisco recently released six new guidelines for preventing hepatitis C in young drug users.

Since 1997, UCSF has been conducting a study of young drug users, particularly those who inject drugs, called “U Find Out”, or UFO (Sheehy). The conclusion of this study coincided with an observation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services noting that the epidemic of hepatitis C outbreaks among young drug users aged 15 to 30 was steadily rising (Sheehy). For the first time, in 2007, deaths associated with hepatitis C were higher than those deaths from HIV, and other research suggests that hepatitis C is 10 times more infectious than HIV. The research from UCSF estimated that there are 31,000 new cases of hepatitis C annually, and that young drug users are at an exceptionally high risk for contracting this infection.

To combat this growing problem, researchers identified six key areas where prevention efforts could be most effective. One of the most important ways involves sterilizing needle exchange programs.  Research found that up to 40% of new infections happen because of exposures to shared drug preparation containers, filters, and rinse water (University of California, San Francisco). In addition to providing sterile needles, these exchange programs need to provide clean preparation equipment, because hepatitis C can live on these preparatory materials for a long time, thus infecting the people who are exposed to these materials. Additionally, researchers highly suggest that hepatitis C screening, testing and counseling should be easily available. Interventions should address the social and interpersonal contexts of injecting, and focus highly on stopping injection drug use to limit the exposure to hepatitis C. Also, these interventions should be scaled larger, as to add to the effectiveness of a single intervention. According to this research, scientists and researchers in the healthcare field need to create models to roll out new hepatitis C treatments and vaccines.

These are all completely realistic suggestions. There is a new test for hepatitis C that takes 20 minutes to view the results, making testing extremely accessible and easy (Sheehy). Although many young drug users who inject don’t succeed in quitting drug use at first, this research found that the more these young drug users attempt to quit, the more likely they are to eventually succeed (University of California- San Francisco). This suggests that treatment programs and other abstinence programs should not react so negatively to a relapse. The fact that these young drug users are repeatedly trying shows that they are likely to succeed at some point, and what they need is support, not judgment.

Hepatitis C has become an epidemic in our country, especially among young drug users. We once viewed HIV as the most commonly transmitted viral infection, but as this research shows, hepatitis C is more infectious than HIV. Therefore, we need to treat this problem with the same gravity our country once addressed the HIV epidemic with. Hepatitis C can cause cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure, among a host of other lifestyle and health problems (Mayo Clinic Staff). Healthcare, researchers, and needle exchange programs need to address and implement these suggestions promptly, as to get the greatest amount of harm reduction and prevention possible for this high-risk group.




Mayo Clinic Staff. “Hepatitis C.” 24 May 2011. Mayo Clinic. Web. 29 July 2013.

Sheehy, Jeff. “Six Recommended Measures to Prevent Hepatitis C for Young Injection-Drug Users.” 24 July 2013. UCSF.edu. Web. 30 July 2013.

University of California- San Francisco. “Preventing hepatitis C in young drug injectors.” 26 July 2013. Medical News Today. Web. 30 July 2013.


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Written by

A native New Yorker, Bre loves the California scene and writing for Treatment4Addiction. She has been writing content for T4A for five months, and loves to learn new things, form opinions, and send them out to the world. Her interests include dance, singing, acting, talking with friends, being a daughter, and being the best big sister she can to her 16 year old brother. After attending ASU for a few months, she is interested in taking cosmetology classes and exploring her options. She looks forward to learning all she can, and doing something positive with that knowledge and experience.

Filed under: Addiction, Alcohol and Drugs, Recovery, Research, Treatment · Tags: Addiction, drugs, Hepatitis C, HIV, interventions, intravenous drug use, IV drugs, needle exchange, prevention efforts, treatment programs, UCSF, University of California San Francisco, viral infection, young drug users

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