New cases of hepatitis C have nearly tripled in the past five years, driven mostly by people sharing needles to inject drugs, federal health officials said Thursday.
Several early investigations of newly acquired hepatitis C infections reveal that most occur among young, white persons who live in non-urban areas (particularly in states within the Appalachian, Midwestern, and New England regions of the country)," the report reads.
"This is primarily a result of increasing injection drug use associated with America's growing opioid epidemic," the CDC added.
Rates have nearly doubled among pregnant women, the CDC said. Pregnant women can pass the virus to their babies.
Hepatitis C is one of the leading infectious disease killers. Nearly 20,000 Americans died from hepatitis C in 2015, the CDC said. About 3.5 million people, mostly over 55, are infected.
Drugs can cure hepatitis C, but they are expensive. Gilead's Sovaldi costs about $84,000 for a weeks-long regimen. The second-generation version, called Harvoni, costs more than $94,000 for similar treatment.
The CDC is right, I think, to recommend that states change their laws to legalize needle-exchange programs: it's cheap and effective. But if junkies refuse to take advantage of the opportunity, and statistics in the 32 states that already allow them show that they don't, I don't see why taxpayers should pay $94,000 to cure them. Especially when those same people resume the habit after treatment has ended (or even before).
UPDATE: I should add that I have friends who, through no fault of their own, acquired Hep C from blood transfusions long ago, before blood was screened for the disease, and others who did do drugs, long ago and who've only in the past few years discovered the they were infected (it can take decades to surface). My comment was aimed at active drug users who refuse treatment, and continue to use. I'm happy to help the former, but not inclined to keep the latter going, even though I'm hardly in a position to moralize.)