Hepatitis C cases climb along with injection drug use
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 educational materials.
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.
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