Monthly Archives: August 2016

Pre-Requisite Treatment Standards Still Abound

By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

Remember that time when county health officials refused medical treatment coverage to people living with HIV if they were drug users and openly admitted it in a radio interview? Yeah…me, either. This was, however, the case on August 24th, 2016, when Dr. Hal Lee, Los Angeles County Health Services’ Chief Medical Officer and liver specialist, freely admitted to the practice with the following statement:

It’s our obligation to offer treatment in a manner that’s rational and logical. We identify the individuals for initial treatment right now, based on how we can offer the most care to the most people, who are going to benefit from it the most now. We believe it is likely that patients who are not using drugs are more likely to complete the treatment than people who are actively using illicit drugs (Plevin, 2016).

This policy is in direct conflict with the Medi-Cal – California’s Medicaid program – Treatment Policy for the Management of Chronic Hepatitis C, a set of guidelines that went into effect on July 1st, 2015, well over a year prior to the date of this interview (State of California, 2015). What makes Yee’s statement ironic is that Medi-Cal is very likely the agency that would be paying for the services that his office is failing to provide.

In this interview, the reporter states that Yee has developed a checklist of criteria to determine if patients are eligible for treatment – one that apparently disregards the very specific checklist put forth by the State of California. One of the criteria requires patients to be free of drug use for six months prior to receiving Hepatitis C medications.

To bring this further into focus, Health Services, which provides health care for about a half-million low-income Los Angelinos, has approved treatment for only 160 people, as of the beginning of August. By comparison, San Francisco Health Network, which serves only 65,000 people overall, treated 631 people by late June 2016. This is a stark difference in treatment approaches, and speaks, I believe, to the social and socioeconomic stratification that exists in Los Angeles County.

My own experiences with L.A. County’s Health Department left much to be desired. As someone who has relocated to several states and been the beneficiary of their respective health agencies, my experiences within L.A.’s low-income health care programs presented a stark and sad reflection of how L.A. treats its residents who don’t reside in the best zip codes.

Hospitals were run essentially like prisons, with barred windows, numerous metal detectors, and employees who behaved more like judgmental prison workers, rather than health care professionals. Facilities were overcrowded, parking was nearly impossible to find, and locations were so far-flung that taking public transportation to them would take hours. After enduring hours-long commutes on the 5 and 405 freeways just to get to an appointment, I finally gave up on the County program and switched my treatment facility to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Van Nuys.

Just beyond the Sepulveda Pass in “The Valley” (San Fernando, that is), this facility that catered to low-income patients was in the right zip code. Though small, it was rarely crowded, focused solely on patients with HIV, and the employees treated everyone, regardless of their mental or physical state, without judgment. There were no metal detectors or barred windows; just good healthcare providers.

Dr. Hal Lee

Photo Source: L.A. Care Consult

What makes me sad about the interview with Dr. Yee is the following quote:

If 70 percent of individuals would live out their lives without any consequences of their hepatitis C infection, none of those people will benefit from treatment. I know that if you come talk to me in one year, in five years, in ten years, you’re going to see these numbers climb, because we’ve put in infrastructure that I know allows us to provide the kind of care that other counties can’t even begin to think about.

Make no mistake – Yee’s approach to treatment is not only outside of California’s long-established treatment guidelines, they are also part of a greater issue: the belief that not everyone is deserving of treatment; that some patients are just “better” than others; that one’s station in life makes them more deserving of quality healthcare.

This interview with not just a county healthcare employee, but the Chief Medical Officer, is a sad reminder of how some doctors fail to live up to their obligations to their patients in a nation where healthcare is not considered a human right. Opponents of Universal/Single-Payer Healthcare love to bandy about the boogieman of “Death Panels,” failing to see that those types of panels already exist, right here in our United States.
__________

Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

 

References:

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Milk, Bread, Ground Beef, and Overdose Medication

By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

The HEAL Blog has been following the issue of opioid addiction very closely, largely because Injection Drug Users (IDUs) represent a large proportion of new Hepatitis C (HCV) infections in the U.S., particularly in rural parts of the country. The Appalachian Mountain region serves as a prime example of how heroin and opioid addiction can lead to a rash of both HIV and HCV outbreaks; it also serves as excellent proving grounds for how Harm Reduction methods can help to prevent mass outbreaks, as well as save lives.

Harm Reductions measures are those that focus on preventive measures that have been shown to lessen the risk to individuals through various legal means. As they relate to opioid addiction, one of the most important measures is increased access to Naloxone, a medication that is used to block the effects of opioid drugs, such as slowed breathing and loss of consciousness. Naloxone – sold under the brand name, Narcan – is a nasal spray that is used to counteract the effects of an opioid overdose. It is currently listed on the World Health Organization’s “List of Essential Medicines,” the most important medications needed in a basic health system, and increasing ease of access without a prescription is something for which advocates have long fought.

Last week, in the city of Huntington, WV, 26 people overdosed on opioid drugs in a period of only four hours from a particularly potent batch of heroin. Of those 26 overdose cases, none of the patients died, as first responders and hospitals were quick to react, delivering a total of 12 doses of Naloxone, including the two used by Huntington police. One patient had to be revived using three doses (Struck, 2016). The remaining patients were revived using bag valve masks, a handheld device used to provide ventilation to patients who aren’t breathing. The users who overdosed ranged in age from 20 to 59, demonstrating that the opioid epidemic affects people of virtually every age range. In Cabell County, where Huntington is located, there were 440 overdoses by June of this year, 26 of which resulted in death; the state of West Virginia, itself, ranks highest in the number of overdose deaths in the U.S.

In Kentucky, the next state over and less than fifteen miles from Huntington, Kroger grocery store locations with pharmacies on site began offering Naloxone over the counter without a prescription at 96 locations, including 80 pharmacies in the Louisville Division (Warren, 2016). Kentucky currently ranks in the top five states for overdose deaths, which makes it an excellent test market for the efficacy of offering Naloxone without a prescription. That said, the Kroger locations in Ashland, KY – the city nearest Huntington, WV – does not yet offer the drug over the counter.

Naloxone rescue kit

Photo Source: Yourblogondrugs.com

When we discuss expanding Naloxone access, there are a number of ways that access can be broadened – (1.) Naloxone can be carried by first responders; (2.) Naloxone can be carried also by state employees (such as school officials); (3.) Naloxone can be sold without a prescription to anyone. WV does not currently allow the sale of Naloxone without a prescription, although WV HB 4035 seeks to do just that. Access to first responders, including police and other emergency personnel, was expanded beyond just Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) in May of this year, but it is unclear, yet, whether or not HB 4035 will be ratified and made into law by the end of this year. In an election year, particularly in the latter half, little of substance seems to get done.

What is important, however, is that we continue to fight to expand access to this lifesaving drug. Politics and personal peccadillos aside, saving someone’s life should never fall prey to moralizing of whether or not opioid abuse is wrong, nor should saving a life be predicated upon whether or not one agrees with the lifestyle choices of the victim. When lives are at risk, every reasonable action should be taken to ensure that those lives are saved.

__________

Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Rhode Island Reports Explosion of Chronic HCV, Injection Drug Use

By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

A new report from the Rhode Island Public Health Institute at Brown University found that the state is currently in the midst of a steep rise in chronic Hepatitis C (HCV) infections, as well as in opioid dependence and overdose. Referred to in the report as a “syndemic,” the study paints a grim picture for the densely populated New England state.

Report Cover: Epidemiological Profile: The Hepatitis C Epidemic in Rhode Island

Photo Source: Rhode Island Department of Health

The study found a 500% increase in HCV-related deaths in the state; it also estimated a prevalence rate of 3.7% – 6%, suggesting that the HCV disease burden – the impact of a health problem as measured by financial cost, mortality, morbidity, or other indicators – may be higher than the state previously estimated. Additionally, Rhode Island’s Medicaid program reporting data suggests that 13,000 Medicaid beneficiaries were screened for HCV in 2014 and 2015; of those beneficiaries, approximately 1,700 returned HCV-positive test results in 2014 and 2015, though it is unknown if all of those individuals sought treatment for their diagnoses. Medicaid reported financing treatment for 215 Medicaid beneficiaries in 2015.

As it relates to last week’s HEAL Blog (HCV in prison populations), the Rhode Island Department of Correction (RIDOC) reported that the prevalence rate for inmates screened for HCV is 17%, and have responded with increased screening, treatment, and cure efforts in the last year.

This new report also indicates that opioid addition and overdose is on the rise within the state, ranking 6th in the nation for drug overdose deaths, the highest in New England. More concerning, perhaps, than the fata overdose rate is that of the non-fatal – at least five times as many non-fatal drug overdoses were reported, which suggests a high level of drug dependence in a relatively small, but densely packed state.

New England, as a whole, continues to battle a growing opioid addiction and overdose epidemic, particularly in the rural and suburban parts of the states – areas which had previously managed to be largely unaffected by the ravages of drug abuse. This trend is reflective of the opioid epidemic in most of the country, and speak to a larger national opioid abuse issue that Federal, state, and local governments are desperate to adequately address.

On the national front, efforts to tighten regulations on prescription opioid drugs face considerable pushback from pharmaceutical manufacturers, whose political sway has largely paralyzed regulatory bodies in their attempts to move forward on the issue. That said, the FY2017 budget currently working its way through the House and Senate includes a significant increase in funds to various programs directed at combating opioid abuse. There has been some movement on efforts to lift the blanket ban on Federal funding for syringe exchange programs, a harm reduction method proven to decrease the spread of blood borne infections, such as HIV and HCV, within Injection Drug User (IDU) populations.

At the state level, Rhode Island’s sole syringe exchange program, ENCORE (Education, Needle Exchange, Counseling, Outreach, and REferrals), is an anonymous program that can provide any individual over the age of 18 with safer sex materials, including clean syringes, bleach, alcohol swabs, cookers, and cotton, as well as condoms. ENCORE outreach workers can also provide anonymous HIV testing, referrals to drug treatment programs, medical care, and social services, as well as clothing and personal hygiene items. The program is located in Providence, RI, and information can be found at http://www.aidscareos.org/.
__________

Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Intersection of Imprisonment and Healthcare

By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

“Nearly forty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Estelle v. Gamble that ignoring a prisoner’s serious medical needs can amount to cruel and unusual punishment, noting that “[a]n inmate must rely on prison authorities to treat his medical needs; if the authorities fail to do so, those needs will not be met. In the worst cases, such a failure may actually produce physical torture or a lingering death[.] … In less serious cases, denial of medical care may result in pain and suffering which no one suggests would serve any penological purpose” (American Civil Liberties Union, n.d.)

 

These words put forth in a Supreme Court ruling are vitally important in today’s society – one in which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its first ever National Survey of Prison Health Care, the results of which were rosy on the surface, but admittedly (on their part) limited in scope, because they only asked if the service was available, rather than checked to see if the services were actually delivered. In addition, numerous reports at the 2016 International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa point to a serious issue brewing in the world’s prisons, as the “War on Drugs,” mass incarceration of drug users, and the failure to provide proven harm reduction and treatment strategies has led to high levels of HIV, tuberculosis, and hepatitis B and C infection among prisoners—far higher than in the general population (Medical Express, 2016).

Two hands holding prison bars

Photo Source: News Limited

The U.S. is exceptional, when it comes to the number of inmates in prison for drug offenses: of the 182,924 inmates currently in Federal prison, 84,746 (46.3%) of them were there for drug-related offenses (Federal Bureau of Prisons, 2016). There are roughly 5 million drug-related arrests each year (Prison Policy Initiative, 2016), all of whom spend some portion of their time going in and out of the jail or prison population, which increases the risk of exposure to blood borne pathogens such a HIV, Hepatitis C (HCV), Hepatitis B (HBV), and Tuberculosis (TB) exponentially over that of the general population. As Injection Drug Users (IDUs) represent an ever-increasing percentage of new HCV infections in the U.S. and around the world, the risk of transmission amongst prison populations is an incredibly serious issue that needs to not only be watched, but addressed.

The unfortunate intersection of imprisonment and healthcare statistics is the reality of the HCV treatment landscape in our nation’s prisons. This has been brought into sharp focus, recently, by a Federal lawsuit against state prison officials in Tennessee, which asks the courts to force the state to start treating all inmates who have HCV (WBIR, 2016).. The Tennessean (part of USA Today) released a report in May 2016 finding that only 8 of the 3,487 inmates known to have HCV were being treated for the disease (Tennessean, 2016) – treatment to which these patients are constitutionally guaranteed, but for which few are ever approved. Further complicating the issue is that the number of HCV-infected inmates is likely much higher, but only a handful are ever tested, because “…acknowledging inmates have the disease means they must treat it.”

The lawsuit in Tennessee is just the latest in a string of Federal and class action lawsuits filed against state and Federal prisons over access to HCV drugs, which similar suits being filed in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and other states. Failure to adequately screen and treat all incoming patients for infectious diseases such as HIV and HCV is, in this writer’s opinion, a gross dereliction of duty on the part of prison officials that risks not only prison populations, but to all citizens at large, once those prisoners are released into general population. HIV and HCV that goes untreated is not only likelier to result to much more costly long-term health complications (and potentially death), but is also likely to result in greater overall infection rates, as untreated diseases are more easily spread from person to person.
__________

Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

AbbVie Receives FDA Approval for Viekira XR

By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

AbbVie, the makers of the Hepatitis C (HCV) Direct Acting Agent (DAA) drug regimen, Viekira Pak, have received final approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for their new combination regimen, Viekira XR. The move by AbbVie provides patients with a simpler regimen to follow, in the hopes of increasing regimen compliance.

Stamp marked, "Approved" next to the initial, "FDA"

Photo Source: 3Dprint.com

The chief complaints about the AbbVie regimens from physicians and patients, alike, have been the use of multiple individual component pills – four with the original Viekira Pak, three with Technivie, and now, three with Viekira XR – as well as the dosing guidelines, which require pills to be taken at different times of the day in order to maintain consistent levels of the drug in the body. These complaints hearken back to similar complaints made about multi-pill regimens used to treat HIV, that required multiple doses per day. Regimen compliance with multi-pill regimens is thought to be lower, because patients report feeling more burdened by having to stop what they’re doing, multiple times per day, in order to take their meds. This argument seems to hold sway, as many of the newest regimens for both HIV and HCV are single-pill regimens (occasionally boosted by a second pill), which require far less effort on the part of busy patients. Viekira XR responds to this by simplifying the regimen down to a once-daily dose of one pill containing ombitasvir, paritaprevir, and ritonavir, and a second pill containing dasabuvir.

Like Viekira Pak, Viekira XR is designed for use in patients living with HCV Genotypes 1a and 1b. Technivie, which has all of the same components as Viekira Pak minus the dasabuvir, is for use in patients with HCV Genotype 4, and was the first DAA drug that was specifically used for that genotype. AbbVie may, however, face considerable competition for their new drug, unless they choose to entre the drug into the market at a lower Wholesale Acquisition Cost (WAC) that Gilead Science’s latest pan-genotypic drug, Epclusa, which hit the market in late June at a price of $75,000 before discounts, rebates, or pricing negotiations. Viekira XR has not yet received a WAC announcement at the time of writing.
__________

Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized