May 25, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

How To Approach Hepatitis C-diagnosed People With Substance Abuse

Apr 27, 2017 04:16 AM EDT

It was considered as a medical breakthrough when scientists have formed a drug that could eliminate the hepatitis C virus (HCV), saving lots of lives from further complications and death. However, HCV patients with substance use disorders have more struggles than a normal HCV-diagnosed person.

In an editorial published online in Annals of Internal Medicine, it was noted that the population of HCV patients with substance use disorder does not have an easy access to conventional health care. With this, it is difficult to screen, diagnose, and treat these individuals.

"People with substance use disorders can account for as much as 80 percent of infected individuals in developed countries, a direct result of the opioid epidemic in the U.S.," Dr. Andrew H Talal, the lead author of the editorial said. He also serves as a professor at the Department of Medicine, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo.

In an article published in Science Daily, Talal said that a combination of various factors like discomfort in conventional health care settings and lack of HCV-related knowledge that could lead to stigmatization are the reasons why HCV patients with substance use disorder prefer not to receive diagnoses and care they need. He also said that doctors' reluctance and insurance barriers are also factors in preventing to treat this specific population.

"New approaches for persons with substance use disorders are required at every step in the HCV care paradigm," the editorial reads. In addition, Tatlal said that there are infection hotspots that rose as a result of the opioid epidemic, especially when people are having needle exchange programs.

A better way to reach these HCV patients with substance use disorders is through proper screening and linkage. It would be hard to have a proper screening as it requires confirmation that the person has been exposed to HCV and an additional blood work to determine if the infection is active. The second step must be conducted through conventional laboratory, in which patients rarely go to.

The editorial reads that Talal and his colleagues at UB and other institutions are developing ways on connecting these HCV patients with substance use disorder to proper care. It is through integrating HCD screening and treatment into methadone clinics that patients have already attended.

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