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Hepatitis C and IV Drug Use

Many people come to AToN with medical conditions. We take these seriously and believe mental health and physical health cannot be separated. One of these conditions is Hepatitis C (Hep C). Hep C is a liver disease that can be chronic or acute. Some people clear Hep C from their body after acute infection without treatment. However most people will go on to develop chronic infection. The name Hep C has a scary connotation, but much has changed in the last few years regarding what we know about the virus and our options to treat it. Read on to find out important facts about Hep C and how it may impact you.

In our addictions, we often do things we never thought we would. Nobody plans on sharing contaminated items prior to their addiction, but it is something that becomes a part of many people’s story. We aren’t able to make the best choices for our long-term health during addiction, and we may find ourselves in risky and unsafe situations in the midst of drug use. Hep C is often an unintended consequence of sharing equipment used to inject drugs such as needles, fluids, syringes, spoons, cotton, and water. Most people think that they can avoid Hep C simply by not sharing needles, but this is not true. In order to be totally safe, people should not share any personal items used to inject or snort drugs.

Hep C is a blood-bourne pathogen and is not spread by kissing, touching, sharing food, or even most sexual encounters. It is also recommended not to share razors or tooth brushes with someone who has Hep C because blood can carry the virus on these items. Hep C can survive for around 6 weeks in and on the wet and dry tools people use to inject and sometimes snort drugs. It is highly infectious and exists in amounts too small to see. Remember, people with Hep C can appear healthy for many years, so you cannot tell if someone has it by looking at them. Also, many people do not even know they have the virus until decades after infection. Symptoms sometimes only appear in the late stages of the disease when their liver functioning is significantly impaired.

Most people who may have had an exposure are terrified of getting tested. While this is understandable, knowing your status can protect your health and the health of those around you. Knowing your status is empowering and allows you to plan for treatment. Many doctors will not treat people until they have been abstinent from IV drug use for a specified period of time, because contracting the disease again is likely. Hep C treatment used to be very log-term, uncertain, exhausting, and difficult. Many people were not cured. With several new medications that have come to market, people can have a 95% chance of complete recovery. These new medications can be quite costly, and sometimes people have to work with their insurance company to ensure coverage.

To avoid Hep C, the CDC recommends ceasing injection drug use. This is the best and safest way to prevent Hep C. Substance use disorder treatment can not only help you stop using, it will also help you manage withdrawal symptoms, learn coping skills, understand relapse prevention, and build long-term support. However, if stopping is not an option for you right now, The CDC has set out these guidelines to prevent infection:

  • Do not share any equipment used to inject drugs with another person.
  • Always use new, sterile needles, syringes and preparation equipment—cookers, cottons, water, ties, and alcohol swabs—for each injection.
  • Set up a clean surface before placing down your injection equipment.
  • Do not divide and share drug solution with equipment that has already been used.
  • Avoid using syringes with detachable needles to reduce the amount of blood remaining in the syringe after injecting.
  • Thoroughly wash hands with soap and water before and after injecting to remove blood or germs.
  • Clean injection site with alcohol or soap and water prior to injecting.
  • Apply pressure to injection site with a sterile pad to stop any bleeding after injecting.
  • Only handle your own injection equipment.
  • If you do inject with other people, separate your equipment from others to avoid accidental sharing.

(Source: https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/pdfs/factsheet-pwid.pdf)

We support people through all types of illness and we make sure all of our residents are safe. We can help you get tested for Hep C, assist you in exploring your treatment options, and provide you with emotional support through the process.

You will not be stigmatized here and our sensitive staff is used to dealing with the many illnesses that coincide with all types of addictions.

AToN Center 888-535-1516