Risk, Prevention, Mitigation: Preventing Hepatitis C Infection and Overdose-Related Deaths

We have all been hearing more about risk and mitigation practices recently. It is not a new thing and, certainly in the world of what is commonly referred to as harm reduction, it is very familiar. Harm reduction in the context of infectious diseases like hep C may be even more familiar to those of us who contracted hep C via drug use - current, recent, or in our distant past. We now understand very well that most new infections are from the reuse and sharing of syringes/needles and (some other substance-use modes, to a lesser extent, such as pipes).

Risks for people who use drugs

The biggest and most urgent threat to people who are currently engaged in drug use is overdose and the resulting deaths that are increasing due to an unsafe and deadly street supply like we have never seen. In part, this is a result of the COVID pandemic’s effect on supply, but not exclusively.

Few of us have not been affected, unless we choose to ignore the stories, and the reporting by the agencies responsible for reporting on cause of death (typically, public health agencies or the coroners where we live). Recently, I saw a news story that two thirds of the deaths attributed to overdose were with people who were using drugs alone. Why alone? I am not an expert by any means, but I do think there are a lot of reasons for that. Stigma and societal views about drug use and addiction account for some, without knowing how many people fall into this category. Even when safe consumption sites are available, we lose people to overdose in higher numbers when they consume alone.

How to stay safe

There are some ways that people can use app technology to mitigate overdose when alone, and I suggest that people seek out aid or support from your local harm reduction coalition, org, or agency. There are some things that we can do as individuals to protect ourselves from harm. As far as things we can do, I would look to the harm reduction services that you can trust and there are many online. Unfortunately, they are not physically located everywhere, and in some places, attitudes about harm reduction are less than helpful. Providing safe places with a safe supply of substances are the best options, yet it is still not widely embraced in many communities, or by policymakers and politicians.

We can stop hepatitis C

In the world of hep C, we want to prevent new cases, and make it possible for more testing and access to care & treatment. We want to eliminate hep C in 10 years, and we can. How hard has that been? At times, it has seemed like a dream and sometimes a nightmare when we hear the stories of how people are stigmatized and poorly treated. Imagine, if you don’t already know, just what it is like to be someone using street drugs feels as they watch their friends and family die, and some internalize the stigma that others practice. Our people need all our support, whenever we can, and with the realization that we are all affected. I know I am. There is no denying that drug use is inextricably tied to hep C, whether you ever did yourself. That is not the issue. We need to stand in solidarity with people who use drugs, and not only because they are at risk for hep C, but because hep C is curable, and there is no cure for an overdose death, not one.

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