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Hepatitis C and Drug Abuse

Hepatitis C is the most common infectious blood disease in the United States. There is no cure or preventative vaccine. Drug abuse and hepatitis C have a very high correlation. Some estimate that 60 to 80 percent of intravenous drug users have hepatitis C. Hepatitis is a common disease among intravenous drug users because of the chronic incidence of unsafe needle use.

Hepatitis can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer.

Hepatitis C and Drug Abuse: How does hepatitis C spread among drug users?

Although hepatitis C can be spread in a variety of ways, it is very common in IV drug addicts because of needle sharing. Hepatitis is spread through blood to blood contact. In drug users, it is spread by sharing needles or by sharing instruments used to snort drugs like dollar bills and straws. Hepatitis C and drug abuse is a particularly bad combination, because once you have hepatitis C, drinking and drug use increase the chance that you will have complications such as cirrhosis.

Hepatitis C and Drug Abuse: What are the symptoms?

Often, people who have hepatitis C are unaware of it until complications develop because there are very few symptoms. In fact, if it was a recent infection, most people don’t have any symptoms.  Some symptoms that can be experienced include fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, dark colored urine and pale bowel movements, pain in upper abdomen and flu-like symptoms. Some people with hepatitis C can have jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin

Hepatitis C and Drug Abuse: What are the complications?

People suffering from the disease of addiction can develop liver cirrhosis as a by-product of hepatitis C. Hepatitis C causes inflammation of the liver which can cause scarring and liver cirrhosis. 75 to 85% of people with hepatitis C develop a long term infection. Hepatitis C can also cause liver cancer.

Hepatitis C and Drug Abuse: What is the treatment?

Hepatitis C does not always require treatment. Some strains respond differently or not at all to treatment, so careful screening is key. Combination antiviral therapy with interferon and ribavirin has been the mainstay of hepatitis C treatment.

Hepatitis C and Drug Abuse: Prevention

In a perfect world, no one would reuse needles. They’d use a new one every time. And no one would use needles to inject drugs illicitly. But the reality is that people use IV drugs, and they don’t always have access to new needles. Sometimes they can’t afford them, sometimes there are laws preventing the sale of them. We can’t pretend that IV drug users will just stop injecting drugs because they don’t have access to clean needles. In these cases, IV drug users need to know how to clean needles themselves.

Bleach has been shown effective in killing HIV, and there is evidence that hydrogen peroxide will kill hepatitis C. To effectively clean needles, you should do both. Regardless of what you do, understand that you are taking a risk. If possible, always use clean needles, or only reuse your own needles you have cleaned. If you do have to share needles, always clean the needles beforehand.

If you or someone you know needs treatment for Alcohol and/or Drug Addiction please call us at 800-951-6135 or visit us online at www.palmpartners.com.

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