The CDC and health officials in Massachusetts are
reporting an epidemic of hepatitis C connected with injection drug
use in that state.
Health officials said between 2002 and 2008, there was a
rise in injection drug users (IDUs) in the 15- to 24-year-old population, from
19% in 2002 to 23% in 2008. This also corresponded to a rise in reported needle
use, from 29% in 2002 to 38% in 2008. This rise in IDUs mirrored similar
increases across the country. Law enforcement data note increases in first-time
heroin use from 100,000 in 2002 to 180,000 in 2009.
Although the occurrence of IDU-associated HCV
infection has been documented for decades, the recent epidemic in reported
cases among adolescents and young adults and its apparent association with
increases in drug injection and sharing of injection equipment in this
population is a disturbing trend, the CDC noted in its report.
CDC researchers said most of the approximately 1,900
HCV cases were among non-Hispanic whites. Most patients (72%) identified
themselves as being current or past IDUs, including the use of heroin, cocaine,
methamphetamine and other drugs.
The researchers said educating people about the dangers
of sharing needles presents particular challenges in younger age groups.
Adolescents and young adults might be more likely
to share drug equipment because of the nature of their social networks, which
are characterized by trust and sharing, the researchers wrote. The
nature of these interactions must be taken into account when developing
They also said those youth who report as IDUs are also
more likely to have participated in other risky behaviors and are more likely
at risk for HIV/AIDS and other STDs.
CDC officials said this report highlights the importance
of education programs, noting that some programs that could be
implemented include access to sterile syringes and drug preparation equipment
through syringe exchange services, expanded school-based education that
includes viral hepatitis prevention messages, expanded harm reduction programs
directed toward young drug users, entry to drug treatment for young injection
drug users, and access to comprehensive health services that include HCV
testing and linkage to care.