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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
New Mexico Inmates to Get Hepatitis Treatment

October 22, 2003
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 develop complications.

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 appropriate.

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 treatment.