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Needle Exchange Program Could Lower HCV Transmissions and Increase Care for Drug Users

Written by: David Jones on Tuesday, November 15, 2016 Posted in:

By: David Jones

all-veterans-can-now-receive-newly-approved-specialty-drug-for-hepatitis-cHepatitis C is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus, or HCV. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 3.5 million Americans have chronic HCV infection. (1). Today, the most common means of contracting HCV is through the sharing of needles and preparation equipment to inject drugs. (2)

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In Tippecanoe County, Indiana, the number of new hepatitis C cases have nearly doubled since 2014, which has led health department officials to consider a needle exchange program. Perhaps because data suggests that needle exchange programs alone may not significantly reduce HCV transmission (3), the county would also “refer people to local mental health and substance abuse counseling, as well as health education, vaccinations, and personal care ….” (4) In further support of the new program, a health department official noted that that overall goal is to “treat the addiction and reduce the amount of drug use. But in the meantime,” he added, “we need to do something to reduce the harm that is coming from that behavior.” (5)

This program, if implemented, could be a new way to bring patients to health care locations that they might typically avoid. By promoting education and providing health and counseling services, the proposed needle exchange program could protect people who inject drugs from a potentially life-threatening illness in the short term and, at the same time, provide services that may help to change the risky needle-sharing behavior in the long term.

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