Associated Press (10.21.03) - Wednesday, October 22, 2003
For the first time, New Mexico will begin treating prisoners
for hepatitis C, which infects roughly one-third of the
state's 6,200 inmates.
Dr. Frank Pullara, medical director for the state Corrections
Department, said a new generation of drugs to effectively
treat the virus was developed only about two years ago, and
treatment can range from $15,000 to $30,000 per patient.
However, Pullara noted, that is only a fraction of the
$500,000 cost of a liver transplant the state would likely
have to pay for should an inmate need one.
Pullara, a University of New Mexico School of Medicine liver
disease specialist, consulted with other health experts to
develop a protocol for treating inmates. Although many people
with the virus do not know they have it, 20-25 percent can
develop liver cancer, cirrhosis, or lose liver function. At
diagnosis, Pullara noted, there is no way to tell who might
Inmates with the virus now have their blood tested
periodically to gauge liver deterioration. Those likely to
suffer liver damage are referred to a treatment review
committee that monitors their liver functions more closely.
The committee decides for which inmates medication is
Prisoners have a right to refuse medication, which Pullara
noted has "horrendous" side effects including nausea, vomiting
and possibly severe depression. "This is a fairly brutal
treatment," he said, adding that for every 100 people with the
virus, he could probably only convince 10 to take the