Increase in Hepatitis Cases Linked to IV Drug Abuse

It’s not unusual for drug use to begin when an individual is seeking to cope with some problem in their life. Whether this problem is physical, mental or emotional, the individual normally feels unwilling or unable to deal with it and looks for some way to escape. Drugs can provide them with this escape, and if they determine that drugs are helpful, they often continue their drug use indefinitely.

When the individual is beginning their drug use, they often make all sorts of assertions and promises, like how they are in complete control of their drug use habits and can stop any time they want, and how they will never cross the line into intravenous drug use. Unfortunately, drug substances themselves do not care about these assertions or promises, and they certainly don’t abide by them. Over time, the human body can grow to tolerate and then depend upon drugs, forcing the individual into a position where they will do literally anything in order to achieve the highs they desire, which can lead them to IV drug use.

IV Drug Abuse and Hepatitis

An individual who is addicted to drugs may be aware, on some level, that drug use is harmful to them. They may even wish that they could be free from drug use, though they may consider it an impossible dream. However, when they are desperate for a drug high, they don’t normally care at all about their safety. This means that an intravenous drug user who doesn’t have access to clean needles is not going to halt their drug use in order to find one–especially if there is any needle available, even a dirty one. Unfortunately, intravenous drug users who use dirty needles are highly susceptible to contracting blood-to-blood infections like Hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is actually incredibly common among IV drug users, who, when sharing their needles to inject drugs into their veins, are often also sharing the virus. McLaren Port Huron infection control practitioner Sharon Kortas indicates that before 1992, most Hepatitis C infections were spread through blood donations that were poorly regulated. Stricter procedures for both blood donations and blood transfusions have helped to eliminate this problem, but health officials are now concerned about the suddenly increasing rate of Hepatitis C cases among younger individuals–cases that seem to be linked to IV drug abuse.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has indicated that in St. Clair County, Michigan, the increase in Hepatitis C diagnoses is nine times the state average. Between 2013 and 2016, there have been twenty-four acute Hepatitis C cases in the county. St. Clair County medical health officer Annette Mercatante points out that forty-two percent of these cases occurred in individuals between eighteen and twenty-nine years of age. Mercatante also indicated that individuals in this age group don’t normally have such high rates of Hepatitis C diagnoses, and the increase in Hepatitis C cases is alarmingly similar to the increase in IV drug abuse.

Unfortunately, between seventy to eighty percent of patients who suffer from acute Hepatitis C don’t experience any symptoms, and those few who do experience symptoms usually don’t see them until six to seven weeks after exposure. This means that if they are sharing dirty needles through intravenous drug use, they may very well be spreading infection without even knowing it.

Getting Help

When considering how to handle blood-to-blood infections caused by IV drug abuse, prevention of IV drug abuse is the most desirable course of action. Since this is not always possible, mitigating the damages is the next step. The state of Michigan considers needles and syringes to be drug paraphernalia and therefore illegal, but since this will not prevent certain individuals from obtaining these items and participating in drug use anyway, there is a clause that permits city or county governments to open needle exchange programs. By replacing dirty, used needles with clean needles, individuals who suffer from IV drug abuse can at least be better protected against dangerous blood-to-blood infections.

Unlike HIV and AIDS, which can also be contracted through IV drug abuse, Hepatitis C is a treatable illness. If those individuals who are suffering from Hepatitis C are receiving assistance in the form of needle exchange programs, they may very well make the wise decision to be tested and treated for this infection. This then may potentially cause them to dramatically change their life for the better by reaching out and getting the recovery help they need.

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