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Opioids and the Rise in New Hepatitis C Infections

Dangerous illegal drugs have ravaged generations of Americans. From the hallucinogens of the 60s, cocaine in the 70s and 80s, to the quick dependence on opioids, and now life-threatening fentanyl in our country, today no one is safe. Now a new dangerous link has been discovered: opioids and the rise of new Hepatitis C infections.

What Is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a liver disorder caused by the blood borne Hep C virus (HCV). It can go undetected for decades and can silently damage the liver. If left untreated, it can cause cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure. 

People who use injectable drugs can come into contact with the blood of an HCV positive person. This fact indicates that there is a link between Hepatitis C and the increased use of opioid drugs. Since 2013 Hepatitis C related deaths in the US have surpassed 60 other infectious diseases including HIV.

The Opioid Epidemic in Georgia

At the end of the 1990s pharmaceutical companies assured everyone that opioid pain relievers were not dependence-forming. The result was more doctors prescribing even more opioids.

By 2012 more than 225 million prescriptions were dispensed with a rate of 81.3 prescriptions per one hundred people. Misuse became commonplace, and by 2019, 9.7 million misused this highly dependence-forming drug. In 2020 3 in 4 drug overdose deaths involved the use of opioids.

Reformulation and Unintended Consequences

Once it was clear opioids, especially oxycontin, were extremely dependence-forming, scientists decided to change the formulation in 2010. They hoped to lessen substance abuse and death. 

10 years later reformulated oxycontin had led to large scale substitution to more deadly opioids like heroin and fentanyl with opioid related deaths surging to over 47,000.

In addition, several studies concluded that Oxycontin reformulation is linked to the national epidemic of Hep C which kills more than 20K Americans a year. 

By 2016 the CDC estimated there were 41,200 acute Hep C cases which was three times that of 2010.

Of special interest:

  • Hep C infection rates rose in all states after 2010, but the difference is quite shocking.
  • After 2010 the states with below average oxy abuse experienced a 75% rise in Hep C infections.
  • In states with above average oxy use, Hep C rates increased 222%.

Stats and Facts

  • Three and a half million Americans live with chronic Hep C.
  • ¾ of those living with Hep C are baby boomers (between the ages of 45 and 65).
  • The largest increase in new Hep C cases in the last decade has been among people under age 40. This is most likely due to increased injection drug use associated with the opioid crisis.
  • 8 in 10 new Hep C infections in the US are transmitted through injection drug use.
  • In 2020 7 of 10 states with the highest overdose mortality rates were in the South.
  • Areas like Appalachia were hardest hit by Hep C, especially Kentucky, West Virginia, and Tennessee.

How to Keep Yourself Protected

40% of people with Hep C don’t know they have it.

The CDC recommends that anyone over 18 be tested for Hep C. You should get a blood test if you are pregnant. If you are injecting drugs, get tested more frequently. 

In addition:

  • Avoid contact with blood
  • Seek help for injection drug use
  • Use new injection equipment every time
  • Do not share injection equipment
  • Clean your hands and the injection area with alcohol and water before and after injecting

Contact Reliance Treatment Center of Statesboro at (912) 489-7827 if you want to be tested for Hep C or to discuss safe and reputable treatment for substance-use disorder. You can alternatively request an appointment through our secure online form. Our dedicated team in Statesboro is here to help.