Hepatitis C is a liver disease that develops in response to the hepatitis C virus (HCV). This virus spreads through blood-to-blood contact. People may contract the virus by sharing unsterilized needles, such as during recreational drug use.
The rising cases of opioid addiction in the U.S. have reached endemic rates. The outcome is a public health crisis referred to as the opioid epidemic.
Rising rates of HCV infection may have links to the increase in opioid and injection opioid use.
In this article, we examine the connection between hepatitis C and opioid use. We look at how one may lead to the other, the link between opioid misuse and HCV, and whether people can take prescription opioids if they have hepatitis C.
HCV is a bloodborne virus that spreads through blood-to-blood contact with someone who has the infection.
People who misuse injectable drugs, such as opioids, may share needles and other equipment, putting themselves at increased risk of coming into contact with the blood of someone with HCV.
There could be a link between the rise in opioid use and HCV infections due to the increase in prescribed opioids. This led to the opioid epidemic and an attempt to reformulate prescription opioids to reduce the chances of addiction.
At the end of the 1990s, pharmaceutical companies gave reassurance that opioid pain relievers were not addictive. This resulted in healthcare professionals prescribing them at a greater rate.
After a steady rise, the total number of opioid prescriptions dispensed peaked in 2012 at
Widespread misuse of opioids followed, indicating that opioids were highly addictive. In 2019, around 9.7 million people misused prescription opioids in the past year. In 2020,
Needles and other equipment used to inject opioids facilitate the spread of infections such as HCV. The
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
One opioid, OxyContin, was reformulated and
Around the time of the reformulation of OxyContin and other policies to deter opioid misuse, the number of people using injectable opioids increased.
Many people misusing prescription opioids resorted to using injectable opioids, such as heroin, because they were easier to access, cheaper than prescription opioids, and gave them a similar high.
There is no medical reason a person with hepatitis C cannot take prescription opioids. Prescription opioids do not interfere with other forms of treatment for treating HCV or its co-occurring conditions.
Healthcare professionals can treat people using opioids with medications for clearing HCV infections. A person can take medications for treating HCV while taking buprenorphine or methadone, two drugs that treat opioid use disorder. There are no drug interactions.
However, healthcare professionals avoid prescribing opioids to people with hepatitis C who have previously experienced drug misuse.
Any person receiving treatment for hepatitis C should contact a doctor immediately if their symptoms or condition worsens, even when they are taking prescription or illicit opioids while receiving hepatitis C treatment.
The opioid crisis and increasing rates of HCV infections have become significant public health concerns.
Many HCV infections occur in people who use injectable drugs. In the U.S., reported HCV infections
Public health officials associate the rapidly increasing rates of HCV infection with the steep rise in injection opioid use.
Those receiving treatment for HCV infections can take prescription opioids. However, doctors should not prescribe opioids to people who have previously struggled with the misuse or inappropriate use of drugs.