Solving the hepatitis C virus (HCV) epidemic among people with substance abuse disorders will be no easy task in the United States, according to an editorial published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Medical Xpress reports.

The paper — written by Andrew H. Talal, MD, a liver disease expert and professor at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Buffalo, and his colleagues — was published as part of a $7 million Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute award dedicated to developing innovative ways to treat HCV among this at-risk population. 

The report, which also includes an online video, begins by noting that people with substance abuse disorders account for as much as 80 percent of HCV-infected people in developed countries. In the United States, injection drug users account for approximately 75 percent of all new HCV infections. Of those, only 20 percent end up being linked to a provider for hepatitis C treatment.

According to Talal, a combination of factors in the United States work together to keep injection drug users from receiving the diagnoses and care they need. Such factors include lack of access to health care or health insurance, discomfort in conventional health care settings, lack of knowledge about hepatitis C in the community and fear of stigmatization. In addition, study authors pointed out that many physicians across the country are still reluctant to treat people with opioid addiction issues.

Fortunately, the paper also points out several innovative solutions to stopping hepatitis C’s spread among those most at risk for infection. These include ramping up HCV screening and linkage to care efforts within “hot spot” communities, integrating these programs into local methadone clinics that these individuals already regularly attend and reaching patients in the corrections system via telemedicine techniques.