Pubdate: Sat, 08 Aug 2015
Source: Tampa Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2015 The Tribune Co.
Author: Patrick Whittle, Associated Press
Page: 7


Experts Blame It in Part on Surge of Heroin Use

MACHIAS, Maine (AP) - Public health agencies and drug treatment 
centers nationwide are scrambling to battle an explosive increase in 
cases of hepatitis C, a scourge they believe stems at least in part 
from a surge in intravenous heroin use.

In response, authorities are instituting or considering needle 
exchange programs but are often stymied by geography - many cases are 
in rural areas - and the cost of treatment in tight times.

In Washington County, at the nation's eastern edge, the rate of the 
acute form of hepatitis C last year was the highest in a state that 
was already more than triple the national average. The problem, 
health officials there agree, is spurred by the surge in the use of 
heroin and other injectable drugs and the sharing of needles to get high.

Ryan Kinsella's story is sadly typical. He was badly hurt in a rock 
climbing accident and became dependent on opioid painkillers several 
years ago. But when his prescriptions ran out, he sought drugs from 
the street, where he found heroin cheaper and easy to get, replacing 
one addiction for another. He's now recovering from hepatitis C.

"It's tough getting medical professionals to look at you as something 
that's not a junkie," said Kinsella, 33, who runs a bicycle shop in 
tiny Penobscot. "There's a little bit of social stigma, and there's a 
little bit of 'There's nothing we can do for you' that's hard to hear."

Maine is undergoing its worst outbreak of acute hepatitis C since it 
started to record cases in the 1990s. In Washington County, the rate 
is about 6 cases per 100,000 residents, well above the national rate 
of about 0.7 per 100,000.

But the problem is not limited to Maine. It has afflicted other 
areas, such as:

Springfield, Missouri, where the disease is on the rise and police 
have already confiscated more than five times the amount of heroin as in 2013.

Madison County, Indiana, which had 70 new cases of hepatitis C in 
2013, followed by 130 in 2014, and where health officials expect 
current rates to at least match or surpass last year's.

Massachusetts, where cases of acute hepatitis C grew from 10 in 2009 
to 174 in 2013.

Large swaths of Appalachia. Kentucky leads the nation in the rate of 
acute hepatitis C, with 5.1 cases for every 100,000 residents, more 
than seven times the national average, according to 2013 data from 
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hepatitis C can result in liver failure, liver cancer and other 
serious complications. Nationwide, cases grew 273 percent from 2009 
to 2013, the CDC reported in its most recently available statistics. 
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom