Injection Drug Users Do Very Well on Sovaldi-Based Hep C Treatment

Hepatitis C and Injection Drug Users

Although hepatitis C can be contracted in numerous ways, the most common method of transmission is through the use of an infected needle. This sometimes occurs when a person receives a tattoo at an unlicensed facility, but most often occurs when a person uses intravenous drugs. During the drug use process, it is common for a user to share needles with others who are using or to use a needle they find if they are using somewhere where many go to use. When one person uses a needle, their blood and any blood-borne illnesses and viruses are transferred to the needle. When another uses that same needle, they introduce the illnesses and viruses to their own blood stream. Since hepatitis C often shows no symptoms in the body and since IV drug users’ bodies are often experiencing symptoms of drug use or drug withdrawal, a person who has been exposed to the hepatitis C virus may not know it for years or even decades. This means that they may be contributing to the spread of the virus by sharing their own needles, without even knowing it.

Injection Drug Users and Hepatitis C Treatment

For a period of time, researchers and medical professionals did not anticipate IV drug users to be a good fit for hepatitis C treatment. This is because most treatments for this virus require a consistent regimen of taking their medications on time each day for a period of several weeks or months, something that can be very tricky for a drug user to abide by as their focus may not be on maintaining a consistent schedule for such a long period of time. In addition, many hepatitis C drugs are expensive and require the use of health insurance to be affordable, something that many drug users do not have as many lack employment or enough income to pay for private health insurance. With this thought in mind, it was fairly common for those diagnosed with hepatitis C to be recommended to a treatment program, with the intent to focus first on sobriety and then on the treatment of the virus itself. The expectation was that this order of treatment would be more likely to result in consistent treatment methods for the virus and thus an outcome that resulted in a person who was both sober and free of the hepatitis C virus.

What is Sovaldi and Why Does It Work for IV Drug Users?

Sovaldi is the brand name of the drug sofosbuvir. It is a drug that is in pill form and requires the user to take it once per day. This is different than many of the other drugs to treat hepatitis C, which required numerous pills each day and/or injections. This previous format was often difficult for a patient to coordinate into their daily lives, which meant many medication mistakes occurred. With Sovaldi, even patients who struggle with a daily schedule, such as IV drug users, are much more likely to be consistent with their medication when it is only one pill per day. In addition, this pill typically has higher cure rates and takes fewer weeks to rid the body of the virus; this means an increased chance of becoming healthy and a shorter requirement to remember to take the pill each day. Plus, fewer pills means less cost, which tends to lead insurance companies to be happier and to make government assistance programs more likely to cover the prescription than other forms of hepatitis C treatment.

How Does This Affect Me?

If you are an IV drug user, you may have previously been told that you need to become sober before you can begin hepatitis C treatment. This may have felt impossible or you may not currently want to be sober. If you were a previous IV drug user who could not afford the lengthy treatment plans of most hepatitis C medications, this newer option may be a better fit for you. If you turned down treatment plans for your virus because you were told that regular shots would be required and you felt unable or unwilling to agree to this, you may now have an alternative option. If any of these scenarios are true for you, you may want to see a new doctor or revisit your previous doctor to discuss whether Sovaldi is the right medication to treat your hepatitis C infection. Not all medications are right for all patients, so there is no guarantee that this one will be right for you, but it may give you an option that you did not previously have.1-4

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