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MDHHS: Opioid crisis connected to soaring rates of hepatitis C

John Chevier
Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM
Heroin users are more susceptible to hepatitis C, especially when sanitary needles are unavailable.

In 2000, 59 young adults in Michigan between the ages of 18 and 29 were reported as having chronic hepatitis C (HVC). Last year, there 2,060 reported cases in that same age group.

That’s an astonishing 3,391 percent increase within the span of just 16 years.

Those numbers come from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services annual assessment of hepatitis rates, which was released on Wednesday. 

The 77-page Annual Viral Hepatitis Surveillance Report states that the increase is clearly correlated to the growing opioid epidemic, specifically to increasing heroin use.

Within that same span, the total number of Michiganders treated for heroin abuse grew by nearly 17,000, and heroin-related deaths in the state grew by over 600 percent.

Addiction to prescription opioids such as oxycodone or morphine often leads to heroin use.

In addition to contributing to the rise of HCV infections, the opioid epidemic in Michigan has lead to a record-breaking number of fatalities. In 2015, deaths due to opioid overdose surpassed car crash and gun fatalities combined.

In a press release, the DHHS emphasized the urgency of recognizing the link between HCV and opioid use:

“History of injecting drugs, the primary risk factor for HCV transmission, was reported by 84 percent of those new HCV diagnoses. Statewide increases in HCV were correlated with a rise in heroin overdose deaths and heroin substance abuse treatment admissions over this same time frame.”

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne pathogen spread via person-to-person contact, including sharing needles or unprotected sexual contact. It's also the only strain of hepatitis that is not preventable by vaccination.

The infection is fairly asymptomatic, although chronic liver disease is common despite a lack of symptoms, and can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer. However, HCV is treatable, and death from the infection is largely preventable.

You can learn more about viral hepatitis, including hepatitis A and hepatitis B, at michigan.gov/hepatitis or cdc.gov/hepatitis.

Emma is a communications specialist with the digital team at Michigan Radio. She works across all departments at Michigan Radio, with a hand in everything from digital marketing and fundraising to graphic design and website maintenance. She also produces the station's daily newsletter, The Michigan Radio Beat.
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