A red cross emits a soft neon glow in a space surrounded by wooden barriers nailed to the wall space around it.

Treatment Restrictions: The Dangers of Mandating Abstinence

Last updated: March 2022

If we are committed to seeing the elimination of hep C as a global pandemic, we need to remove all barriers to access to treatment. Although some jurisdictions have relaxed their restrictions on treatment access, there are still some holdouts who need to address what is ultimately a
public health issue - not a question of morality.

Who is stopped from getting treatment?

As someone who has advocated for access for all, this is not a change in my view. The arguments vary on why there should be barriers for people who use substances (drugs), mostly because it is seen as the cause of their hep C, and there is a risk of reinfection if they continue to use drugs. We should treat and treat again if there is reinfection, and with no judgements or stigma attached. Addiction is far too often framed as a weakness, and even if we accept that flawed premise, do we really want to punish the most vulnerable? Of course not, at least not in my view.

Simply put, we will never end the plague that hep C is without providing care and treatment for all people regardless of their past or present use of drugs. Period.

How restrictions perpetuate stigma

Many of us who are Baby Boomers may have been exposed to the hep C virus in ways other than drugs, and this remains true for people around the globe, with medical care and procedures being a major transmission route where sterilization practices are not satisfactory. As I have said from day one: It does not matter how we got hep C. It doesn’t, or at the very least it should never be a deciding factor, and this is where stigma is created and sustained.

We must stand together

Some will decry about how they never used drugs... This only serves to divide us in our effort to remove stigma. I am not saying that you did ever use drugs, and I don’t judge you if you do or ever did. It should never be an issue.

We had the stigma put upon us by others who knew very little if anything about hep C and how it is transmitted, and to be frank, it has been used to divide us and frustrate the attention it deserved. Until we accept that we all deserve the same respect and access to care as people dealing with a disease, we will not see the end to hep C.

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