Hep C: It's Just a Shot Away

By Dirk Hanson 04/23/11

Know your alphabet: Injecting drug users are more frequently infected with hepatitis A, B, C, and D.

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40% to 90% of European needle users may be infected.
Photo via thinkstockphotos

It’s still true—drug injections and hepatitis go together like a…. like a horse dying of liver disease and… something. The point is, intravenous drug users are still a primary source of hepatitis C infection, says the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). Indeed, they may be the leading source. A recent report from the agency estimates that as many as a million people who have injected drugs may be living with a hepatitis C infection, and that anywhere from 40% to 90% of European needle users in given populations are infected. Even worse, the EMCDDA estimates that 30% of patients with untreated hep C go on to develop cirrhosis of the liver in later years. And injecting drug users are more frequently infected with hepatitis A, B, and D viruses as well. To combat the spread of all types of hepatitis, the European group recommends a combination of opioid substitution treatment—typically methadone or buprenorphine—and needle exchange programs.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]