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/.
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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.

 

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