Monthly Archives: January 2018

Are Hepatitis C “intentional exposure” Criminalization Laws on the Horizon?

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s 2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award
By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

One of my favorite things about growing up in the 1980s/90s was hearing all about how “…this guy spit on someone, and it turned out…he had HIV.”

Inevitably, the “guy” they were talking about was supposedly arrested and charged with a felony for trying to infect someone with AIDS, and everyone would gasp in horror – how DARE someone try to spread AIDS by spitting on an innocent bystander?! If I happened to be in or around the group talking about this, I would always (not so calmly) explain to them that it is a scientific improbability that one could transmit the HIV virus by way of spit, because the concentration of the virus in spit is so low that there is almost a 0% chance that it can be transmitted outside of incredibly extreme circumstances and a concerted effort. Mind you, this was back in the late-80s/early-90s, when the AIDS panic was still in full swing. Even THEN, I wasn’t stupid enough to believe this kind of nonsense.

States that criminalize biting, spitting, or throwing of bodily fluids by people who have HIV

Little did I know, at the time, that these kinds of arrests were an actual thing. In 2017, there were 16 states that criminalize spitting, biting, and blood exposure for HIV-infected citizens (The Center for HIV Law & Policy, 2017).

I mean…

It’s 2018. These laws aren’t even based on good science!

So, because everything is awful, and America is totally known for basing their laws on good data and research, of course these fatuous laws would be extended to Hepatitis C (HCV) – one of the least effectively externally transmitted viruses.

Photo of a 27-year old man with Hepatitis C charged with spitting at Cleveland police officers.In Cleveland, OH, for example, a 27-year-old man who was drunk has been charged with First Degree Felonious Assault…for spitting on a police officer. He’s being held on $75,000 bond in the Cuyahoga County Jail, because he was drunk and spat in a police officer’s face while being put into an ambulance (Jankowski, 2018). Matthew Wenzler, the accused, has been called a “carrier” of HCV, and Cleveland Police reports state that they were “told” he is a “heroin addict.”

This isn’t even the first time Ohio has prosecuted someone for Spitting While HCV – in both State v. Price (2005) and State v. Bailey (1992), Ohio courts have upheld convictions for assault for spitting in an officer’s mouth. The neighboring state, Indiana, classifies Spitting While HCV as Class 5 or 6 felony battery…but only:

…if the accused in a rude, angry, or insolent manner places bodily fluid/waste on another person AND knew or recklessly failed to know that his or her bodily waste or fluid was infected with hepatitis [for Class 6].

…if the accused in a rude, angry, or insolent manner places bodily fluid/waste on another person AND knew or recklessly failed to know that his or her bodily waste or fluid was infected with hepatitis AND places the bodily fluid/waste on a public safety official [for Class 5] (Paukstis, 2017).

In South Dakota, a (Republican) state lawmaker has introduced legislation to make the transmission of HCV a Class 3 Felony punishable by up to 15 years in a state penitentiary and a $30,000 fine (Mercer, 2018). What makes this trouble is that this legislation is for “intentional exposure” which applies to “…transferring, donating or providing blood, tissue, organs or other infectious body parts or fluids” (Mercer). For anyone who’s paid attention over the past two years, the transplantation of HCV-infected organs has been repeatedly done, because there is now a functional cure for the disease. These organs are desperately needed at a time when the disease can be cured, and this legislation would making numerous people criminally liable for completing these procedures – the donor and anyone who approved or performed the transplant.

It should go without saying that criminalization of Viral Hepatitis (of any variety) and HIV is based not on good data or science, but upon efforts to shame and stigmatize those with the disease. It’s time for this nonsense to stop.

References

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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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Young Adults Most at Risk of Hepatitis C Infection Via Injection Drug Use

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s 2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award
By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

Statistical analyses from around the country don’t lie: our nation’s young adults are driving the Hepatitis C (HCV) epidemic in the United States, and prescription opioids and heroin are the primary risk factor. These data, released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in December 2017, indicate that adults aged 18-39 saw a 400% increase in HCV, 817% increase in admissions for injection of prescription opioids, and a 600% increase in admissions for heroin injection (CDC, 2017). This analysis was made by compiling data from the CDC’s hepatitis surveillance system and from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) national database that tracks admissions to substance use disorder treatment facilities in all 50 U.S. states from 2004 to 2014.

Photo of the CDC Headquarters

Source: George Mason University

The findings “…indicate a more widespread problem than previous studies have shown,” researchers led by the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention (NCHHSTP) wrote (Connor Roche, 2018). The largest increases were among persons aged 18-29 and 30-39 (400% and 325%, respectively), non-Hispanic Whites, and Hispanics (Zibbell, et al, 2018). Admissions for both men and women attributed to Any Opioid Injection Drug Use (IDU) increased significantly, as did admissions for heroin IDU, and Prescription Opioid Analgesics (POA). Amontg non-Hispanic Whites, admissions for Any Opioid IDU increased 134% over the 11-year period (Zibbell).

What makes this frustrating as an advocate for both HCV and for Harm Reduction measures is the pushback from Conservative and Libertarian organizations and “think tanks” who consistently claim that there is no “opioid epidemic;” that the only real problem we have is heroin and fentanyl (Singer, 2018). The Cato Institute – one such Libertarian organization (founded as the Charles Koch Foundation in 1974) – has consistently misrepresented data about the opioid epidemic in America by focusing only on overdose statistics. Even the statistics they cite – “Digging deeper into that number shows over 20,000 of those deaths were due to the powerful drug fentanyl, more than 15,000 were caused by heroin, and roughly 14,500 were caused by prescription opioids” – come with some caveat that portends to excuse their galling lack of accuracy.

The purpose of the Cato Institute and Mr. Singer’s positions is to attempt to persuade “rational” people that prescription opioids aren’t the real problem, and any efforts to restrict or regulate the dosages, supply days, or “well-meaning, hardworking” healthcare providers who prescribe prescription opioids is obviously absurd. Why, any rational human being would never abuse prescription opioids, and the people who do are the ones at fault; not those innocent physicians who prescribe the highly addictive substances. (/sarcasm)

Counter to the alternate reality created by Mr. Singer, where addiction to the effects of opioids just magically appears, and can’t possibly be related to prescription drugs, that isn’t how addiction works, nor do any of the surrounded data – drug abuse statistics, treatment facility admission records, and HIV/HCV infection data – support his nonsensical claim.

These findings from the CDC should be concerning to Americans. These problems are going to get far worse, before they get better, particularly if people who are addicted lose access to government-, employer-based, and/or privately-funded healthcare coverage. With the removal of the Individual Mandate from the Affordable Care Act in 2017, analysts consistently predict that chaos will ensure within the health insurance marketplaces, which will inevitably result in fewer people having access to affordable healthcare, an increase in unpaid medical and emergent care expenses, and increased prices for everyone.

References:

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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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Appalachia’s Opioid Addiction Continues Wreaking Health Havoc

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s 2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award
By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

The Northern Kentucky Health Department (NKHD) has reported a 48% increase in new HIV infections in the region in 2017, with 37 new cases compared to 25 in 2016. In 18 of those 37 cases (48.6%), Injection Drug Use (IDU) was listed as a primary risk factor, compared to just 5 of the 25 cases in 2016 (20%). Further analysis of these data show that the IDU-related new infections were concentrated in just two of the region’s four counties – Campbell and Kenton (Northern Kentucky Health Department, 2018).

Whenever a jump in new HIV infections occurs in Appalachia, I say to myself, “THIS! THIS will be our teachable moment! THIS will be the one that forces [state] to take action!” And, a lot of the time, I’m partially correct. The most common refrain I hear when asking state and local healthcare officials about potential HIV outbreaks is, “We don’t want this to be another Scott County, Indiana.”

Sihe HIV outbreak in Scott County, IN in 2015 (Hopkins, 2017) that saw the county’s number of new HIV infections jump from 5 per year to 216 in two years, states all across American and even the Federal government began taking actions to prevent a similar outbreak. In 2016, Congress partially lifted the ban on Federal funding for Syringe Services Programs (SSPs) – a move once thought virtually impossible given the political climate (All Things Considered, 2016). The Scott County outbreak served as a cautionary tale in state run by Conservatives – “It’s time to get with the times.”

Two hands, with one hold a needle

Photo Source: TheBody.com

Of the 18 IDU-related HIV infections, 78% were co-infected with Hepatitis C (Monks, 2018). Increases in new cases of Hepatitis C (HCV) are often the “canary in the coal mine) that leads healthcare professionals to begin more rigorous screening for HIV, particularly in areas of the country where the incidences of prescription opioid and/or heroin abuse are particularly rampant. Unlike the heroin epidemic of the 1970s, the new opioid epidemic of the modern millennium is set in rural and suburban areas of the country. Of the 220 counties identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as being vulnerable to HIV or HCV outbreaks, 56% are in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia – the states that rank in the top four rates of Hepatitis B and HCV infections in the U.S. (Whalen & Campo-Flores, 2018).

Across the Ohio River from the Northern Kentucky Independent District, in Cincinnati, the city saw a 40% increase in new HIV infections over 2016, with a total of 129 new infections, 28 of which (22%) were IDU-related (Whalen & Campo-Flores).

HEAL Blog will continue to monitor the situation in Northern Kentucky. After all, nobody wants to be the next Scott County, Indiana

References:

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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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Advances and Risks for Hepatitis C Patients

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s 2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award
By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

As our understanding of the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) increases, we learn more about how the virus affects our bodies and well as develop better diagnostic and treatment tools to screen for and mitigate the comorbidities that arise from untreated HCV. New technologies can be used to test liver fibrosis without invasive biopsy tools – which remain the most effective way to measure liver damage and scarring (fibrosis) – with a high degree of accuracy…under certain conditions. Additionally, further research has indicated that, in addition to the deleterious effects of HCV on the liver, when left untreated, HCV can result in Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD).

Virtual Touch image of the kidney

Photo Source: Siemens

Virtual Touch™ Quantification (VTQ – Siemens) is a noninvasive diagnostic procedure that allows patients to undergo various types of tissue analyses without the need for surgery or biopsies using Acoustic Radiation Force Impulse (ARFI) – a sonographic technique that determines the local mechanical properties of tissue (a fancy way of saying “stiffness”). Essentially, much like an ultrasound during pregnancy, ARFI and VTQ uses a conventional ultrasound probe during abdominal ultrasonography to measure the stiffness of the liver. This is especially effective in patients with ascites – an accumulation of protein-containing (ascitic) fluid within the abdomen – an advancement over the Fibroscan (Transient Elastography – Echosens) which cannot (Bennett, 2018).

The research (Tsukano, et al., 2017) also indicates that skin liver capsule distance (SCD) – the distance between the skin and the liver capsule – corresponded highly with any discrepancies between VTQ and liver biopsy analyses. Patients with a long SCD may receive less accurate results using VTQ. Steatosis, hepatic inflammation, and hepatocyte ballooning have little effect on ARFI measurement failures (Bennett).

Chronic Kidney Disease stages

Photo Source: Sunlight Pharmacy

Another study (Park, et al., 2017) discovered that patients with HCV are at higher risk of developing CKD. The research found that Chronic HCV is associated with extrahepatic manifestations – problems that occur outside the liver, some of which are associated with the immune system, and others seem to be driven by chronic inflammation – with CKD being the most commonly reported extrahepatic condition. Untreated Chronic HCV leads to a 27% increase for developing CKD, while treating the disease using Interferon-based dual, triple, and all-oral Direct Acting Antivirals (DAAs) had a 30% reduction in risk for developing CKD. The researchers indicated that they were “disturbed” to find that 79% of patients with Chronic HCV did not receive treatment (van Paridon, 2018). The increased risk of CKD was more significant in patients age 18-49, compared to adults aged 60≥.

While more research is needed, this should serve as a caution to payors and legislators who have been reluctant to approve treatment methods for HCV patients due to associated short-term expenditures.

References

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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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