06 Feb Hepatitis C a Growing Trend with Teens That Inject Drugs
Health experts are attempting to stop the spread of the hepatitis C virus. Complicating strategic planning is the fact that there’s a small window between education and intervention: When teens and young adults begin injection drugs there’s a short period before they contract hepatitis C.
Experts from the Office of HIV/AIDS and Infection Disease Policy, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration convened in 2013 because of reports showing that hepatitis C is spreading among injection drug users in rural and suburban areas of the country. Multidisciplinary consultants, representatives from state health departments, researchers and other experts in the field met over two days to examine factors influencing the spread of the virus and implementing targeted educational strategies towards teens at risk for using drugs to ward them of the dangers of contracting hepatitis C.
For many drug users, the risk of hepatitis C may seem like something that could never impact them. However, many teens initiate drug use during adolescence, and do not understand all of the various risks involved, both short-term and going into adulthood.
Hepatitis C is a viral infection that attacks the liver. Without treatment, cirrhosis and liver cancer can develop, which could mean a liver transplant may be necessary. While the effects of the disease can be painful and widespread, treatment with medication is often successful and results in a full recovery.
According to an article published on AIDS.gov, the trend of increased cases of hepatitis C associated with injection drug use was first noticed by Massachusetts. Data illustrated that young people were showing increasing occurrences of hepatitis C, with the majority among those aged 15 to 24. While the young people were from all areas of the state, there was a noticeable trend of more cases in rural and suburban locales than in metropolitan Boston.
In addition, interviews with hepatitis C patients identified them as largely representing those who had begun using opioids by first abusing oral Oxycodone for a period of 12 to 18 months before moving on to heroin used intravenously.
The trends in Massachusetts were soon found to be similar across the country. Hepatitis C was being transmitted through injection drug use among young people, primarily in rural and suburban locations. Largely, these drug users had started with substances like Oxycodone and moved on to heroin.
The article notes that the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, conducted between 1979 and 2002, found that 590,000 young adults had tried injecting drugs at least once. Experts believe that as many as 265,000 (45 percent) of these individuals have been infected with hepatitis C. Because the survey did not include those who were homeless or living in an institution, the estimates could be much lower than the actual cases of hepatitis C.
While the CDC has recorded declines in recent decades for instances of hepatitis C among teens and young adults, the experts indicate that a failure to address the rising numbers could result in a reversal of that trend.
The participants in the meeting recommended various public health initiatives to combat the trend of hepatitis C occurring in young people. They included community-led education addressing and the expansion of research on community-based activities to understand the crisis among young people.
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