UC to Combat Spread of Hepatitis C Among Drug Users

A University of Cincinnati professor is combating the spread of hepatitis C among young adults in Southern Ohio who inject heroin with a $900,000, three-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A University of Cincinnati professor is combating the spread of hepatitis C among young adults in Southern Ohio who inject heroin with a $900,000, three-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The purpose of the grant is to identify interventions for young adults ages 18-30 “who inject drugs and either already have hepatitis C or are at risk of contracting hepatitis C,” said Judith Feinberg, professor of internal medicine at UC and principal investigator on the grant.

With the grant funds, researchers will hire and train outreach workers to recruit young injection drug users at risk for or currently with hepatitis C, and who reside within one of 21 counties across Southern Ohio. Those counties are: Adams, Athens, Brown, Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Fayette, Gallia, Greene, Highland, Hocking, Jackson, Lawrence, Meigs, Montgomery, Pike, Preble, Ross, Scioto, Vinton and Warren, according to the university’s press release.

“This is an important public health project as rates of hepatitis C are higher in suburban and rural areas than in urban areas,” said Erin Winstanley, co-investigator on the grant and assistant professor of health outcomes.

Feinberg noted that Hamilton County is not part of the grant because it is considered an urban center.

The project is known as Southern Ohio Prevents Hepatitis Project or StOPHeP.

Outreach workers will recruit heroin and opioid users by working with drug treatment programs in Dayton and Athens and with substance abuse education programs in Portsmouth and Cincinnati. Outreach workers will use social networking and texting to connect with those at risk, Feinberg said.

“Because this is aimed at young people there is a lot of social media involvement, and the outreach staff we are going to have in the field will also be young people with a lived history of injection drug use that have been clean for at least two years,” she said.

Hepatitis C, a liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis C virus, can range “from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness,” according to the CDC’s website. Before widespread screening of blood supply in the U.S. began in 1992, the virus was commonly spread through organ transplants and blood transfusions. Today, most people contract the virus by sharing needles to inject drugs.

Hepatitis C is treatable and can be cured, but is it very expensive. Sofosbuvir, a drug recently cleared by the Food and Drug Administration, costs $84,000 for a 12-week course, according to the university.

“It is really important to intervene early for those who already have chronic hepatitis C, and to prevent other young people who inject drugs from getting it. We are going to be really working on methods to figure that out,” Feinberg said.