Does Methamphetamine Use Negatively Impact Treatment of Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is the name of a liver-damaging infection caused by the presence of a virus species commonly known as HCV (the hepatitis C virus). People who abuse the stimulant drug methamphetamine have unusually high chances of contracting this infection. In a study published in January 2014 in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, a team of American researchers investigated the impact of methamphetamine use on the chances that a person with hepatitis C will receive proper treatment for his or her infection. The researchers also investigated whether methamphetamine use reduces the effectiveness of proper hepatitis C treatment.
Most people think of hepatitis as a specific type of illness; however, doctors use the term to refer to any type of serious inflammation that occurs in the body’s liver cells. People with hepatitis C have liver inflammation resulting from the damaging effects of the hepatitis C virus. This virus can be transmitted from person to person through means that include introduction of previously infected blood into the mouth or an open wound, and accidental or purposeful injection with a needle used by a previously infected person. Hepatitis C occurs in both a short-lasting (acute) form and a long-lasting (chronic) form; the majority of affected individuals have the chronic form of the disease. Potential consequences of untreated, chronic hepatitis C infection include the development of potentially life-threatening liver cancer or scarring of liver tissue (a process known as cirrhosis).
Methamphetamine and Hepatitis C
Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant that simultaneously triggers a steep boost in the brain’s output of pleasure-producing chemicals and sharply accelerates the pace of nerve cell activity inside the brain and spinal cord. The boost in pleasure associated with the drug typically plays an important role in the onset of both methamphetamine abuse and methamphetamine addiction (categorized together as symptoms of a condition called stimulant use disorder). The boost in brain and spinal cord activity associated with the drug can lead to a methamphetamine overdose or a range of other serious or possibly fatal health problems such as strokes, heart attacks and a muscle disorder called rhabdomyolysis. The link between methamphetamine use and hepatitis C infection exists because habitual meth users commonly develop behavioral impairments that increase their chances of using drugs intravenously, engaging in unprotected sex or otherwise participating in activities that increase their chances of being exposed to HCV.
Impact on Hepatitis C Treatment
Treatment for hepatitis C typically involves the use of medications that either directly reduce the survival rate of HCV or diminish the chances for severe HCV-related liver dysfunction. In the study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, the team of American researchers used an examination of 198 patients in a single Veterans Administration hospital to look at the impact of methamphetamine use on the treatment of hepatitis C. These patients received treatment during select six-month periods in 2004 and 2007; the researchers began analyzing the data gathered from these periods in 2010. All of the study participants were infected with the hepatitis C virus; 40 percent of the participants were known current or previous users of methamphetamine.
The researchers found that nearly half (46 percent) of the methamphetamine-using participants had taken the drug within six months of their treatment for hepatitis C. Fully 86 percent of these individuals also abused some other drug. Nearly one-third (29 percent) of the methamphetamine-using participants who had not recently taken the drug also took part in some other form of drug abuse. In addition, over two-thirds (71 percent) of all the study participants had a history of serious alcohol-related problems; 47 percent of these individuals were still actively affected by alcohol abuse or alcoholism.
After reviewing their data, the researchers concluded that recent or past use of methamphetamine does not have a negative impact on access to hepatitis C treatment or on the effectiveness of hepatitis C treatment once it’s begun. In addition, a recent or past history of methamphetamine use does not reduce the chances that an individual will successfully complete a course of hepatitis C treatment.
Significance and Considerations
While methamphetamine use apparently does not interfere with standard treatments for hepatitis C, the authors of the study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine concluded that the presence of alcohol-related problems does have a negative impact. Specifically, people currently affected by alcohol abuse or alcoholism take steps to begin hepatitis C treatment substantially less often than people unaffected by these issues.