CBS Sacramento (05.13.2013)
Aids Weekly Plus
The use of new, high-cost hepatitis C virus (HCV) drugs for California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) prisoners has become a topic of debate. Prison health officials attribute high HCV prevalence in the CCDR to prisoners sharing needles for drugs and tattoos. More than 15,000 CDCR inmates have HCV, and 400 are receiving HCV medications. Only the more advanced cases get the newer, more expensive medications Boceprevir or Telaprevir, according to Dr. John Zweifler, deputy medical executive of central area field operations for California Correctional Health Care Services.
Zweifler also participates on the hepatitis C oversight committee that added Boceprevir and Telaprevir to the approved treatment list. Although Zweifler stated that the use of Boceprevir and Telaprevir can improve the cure rate from 35 to 70 percent, treating 50 inmates with the new drugs will increase CDCR’s medication cost by $2.5 million. CDCR policy aligns with American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases’ HCV treatment recommendations.
Opponents of the expensive treatment argue that prisoners should not receive high-cost medications that are not available to workers whose insurance does not cover the new drugs. Jon Coupal, of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, questioned whether the cost of treatment would be wasted if an inmate became re-infected while in jail.
However, John Sousa, a former drug user and prisoner who now works as a certified counselor at the C.O.R.E. Medical Clinic in Sacramento, agreed with Zweifler that it made financial sense to treat the prisoners, most of whom would have been eligible for HCV treatment before incarceration. Untreated HCV can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer, which incur costly treatment. Zweifler stated that a prisoner who becomes re-infected would have to wait one year for a second round of treatment. May 19 was National Hepatitis Test Day.