People With Opioid Addiction Are At Higher Risk for Hep-C, HIV

By Kelly Burch 06/21/17

As the national opioid epidemic has grown over the past few years, new cases of hepatitis-C have nearly doubled.

blood sample from a hepatitis-C positive patient

People with opioid addiction are more likely to suffer from a variety of health disorders, complicating treatment for substance use disorder. 

Hepatitis C is among the most concerning health conditions that plague people with opioid addiction. People who misused opioids were 9.1 times more likely to have hepatitis C (HCV) than people who did not, according to analysis by the health care company Amino, which drew data from the claims of 3.1 million privately insured patients between 2014 and 2016.

As the opioid epidemic has taken hold across the country, new cases of HCV have increased dramatically. There were an estimated 30,500 new cases in the U.S. in 2014, nearly double the number of new cases in 2011, according to STAT News. The CDC has reported that new HCV infections are rising sharply among intravenous drug users under 40 years old, particularly in rural areas.  

People with opioid addiction were also 8.4 times more likely than the general population to drink in excess, and 7 times more likely to have suicidal ideation.

One medical professional was not surprised by the finding. “It’s known that people with co-occurring behavioral and mental health issues are at high risk for addiction even when prescribed opioids for a bonafide prescription medical use,” Dr. Anna Lembke, a Stanford University psychiatrist and opioid addiction expert, told Amino. 

However, Lembke was particularly interested in the fact that people with opioid addiction are seven times more likely than the general population to suffer from "failed back syndrome," a chronic pain condition that is diagnosed following back surgeries. 

“What I thought was really interesting was the correlation with failed back syndrome,” she said. “Perhaps failed back syndrome is a risk factor for developing an opioid use disorder—and that could be part of the reason why this community experiences such chronicity and lack of improvement. This is a subgroup that’s especially vulnerable to opioid misuse.”

To compile the data, Amino looked at health claims among people with a variety of insurance codes, representing conditions from opioid dependence to opioid abuse in remission. Amino is a private insurer, and the data also showed the sharp rise in opioid abuse among people with private insurance. There was a six-fold increase in opioid-related private insurance claims between 2012 and 2016, according to the report. 

However, Lembke pointed out that even that sharp increase may be underrepresented. 

“Patients don’t want to carry them on their charts, and doctors don’t want to stigmatize their patients,” said Lembke. “But they will go ahead and chart it if there’s utility in it. And the utility is you can’t get buprenorphine, methadone maintenance, or naltrexone paid for by a third-party payer unless it’s diagnosed.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.