University of California, San Francisco (07.24.2013)
Researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) have come up with six measures to prevent hepatitis C virus (HCV) transmission among injection drug users. The measures resulted from the “U Find Out” (UFO) study, a 16-year UCSF injection drug use research project funded by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Australian Government Department of Health and Aging.
After examining various data sources, the researchers estimated 31,000 new HCV diagnoses occurred per year and pinpointed six areas for focusing prevention efforts. Although syringe exchange has worked, the researchers found that the virus lived a long time on surfaces and could contaminate drug-injection equipment in addition to syringes. As a result, they approved of expanding needle exchanges across the country, but recommended that all needle exchanges provided clean preparation equipment as well as the usual needles and syringes. The researchers also recommended HCV screening, testing, and counseling; risk reduction through interventions targeting the social and relational environment of injecting; interventions that provided breaks from or completely ended drug use; development of models to guide new hepatitis C treatments and vaccines; and combined interventions to end HCV risk and injecting drug use.
The study also examined behaviors associated with users’ attempts to complete substance abuse programs. Although the injectors often failed the programs, the study showed that the more they tried to quit or take breaks from drugs, the higher the chances that they would succeed eventually. The researchers highlighted the value of taking breaks from drugs to reduce the risk of transmission and help end drug use, and disapproved of treatment programs that permanently banned injectors who failed as not being conducive to reducing disease exposure risks or ending the drug use.
The full report, “Injection Drug Use and Hepatitis C Virus Infection in Young Adult Injectors: Using Evidence to Inform Comprehensive Prevention,” was published in a supplement to the journal Clinical Infectious Disease (2013; 57 [Suppl 2]: S32–S38).