Hepatitis C Infection Increase Tied to Opioid Epidemic

Associated Press (AP) reports that the opioid crisis sweeping the US has hidden victims: Tens of thousands of children forced from their homes. The share of kids entering the foster care system due to a parent’s addiction has reached a high, fueled by skyrocketing use of opioids.

The United States’ overall rate of hepatitis C infection more than doubled from 2004 to 2014 — and among people under 40, it increased by 300 to 400 percent.

According to a report published in the American Journal of Public Health, the jump is attributed to transmission through injecting opioid drugs. Injection drug use is now the most common risk factor for hepatitis C, itself the most common chronic bloodborne infection in the United States, and data indicates 28 percent of injectors are infected within a year.

The Tennessean reports that Tennessee is among the top three states for opioid prescription rates. In Benton County, the number of prescriptions given in 2016 far exceeds the local population. Perhaps more troubling: Benton’s rate doesn’t fall in the top 25 counties in Tennessee. The issue plagues Tennessee’s emergency rooms, neonatal units, and prisons, but it also harms the state’s workforce.

While the state’s unemployment rate has dropped to a record low 3 percent, Tennessee’s labor participation rate has also gone down. A decade ago, more than 64 percent of residents participated in the workforce, a number that is less than 61 percent today, 2 percentage points below the national rate. The state’s opioid use is among factors to blame, said Matthew Murray, an economist at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

Lead author Jon Zibbell, senior public health analyst in the Behavioral and Urban Health program of North Carolina-based RTI International, said treating hepatitis C in people who spread the virus through injecting drugs could have a significant public health impact, he said, comparing the hepatitis C virus, which exists only in humans, to smallpox: “We have a cure for hepatitis C. … We could eliminate this virus from the world.”