The Important Role of Substance Use Disorder Treatment Providers in Ending the HCV and HIV Epidemics

Content From: Corinna Dan, R.N., M.P.H., Viral Hepatitis Senior Policy Advisor, Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesPublished: December 12, 20192 min read


Photo of  a hand with a syringe taking blood from a patient's arm with the words, "Hepatitis C"
Credit: HHS

Cross-posted from Viral Hepatitis Blog, U.S. Dept of Health & Human Services

Summary: Technical assistance slide setExit Disclaimer helps educate substance use disorder treatment providers on their critical role in diagnosing and treating those with HCV and HIV.

Our nation’s substance use crisis is closely linked to a steep rise in infectious diseases associated with injection drug use, especially hepatitis C and HIV. Approximately 70 percent of new hepatitis C infections occur among people who inject drugs and nine percent of new HIV infections in the United States are related to injection drug use.

Addressing the syndemic of drug misuse and infectious diseases requires a coordinated, multidisciplinary approach. The National Alliance for HIV Education and Workforce Development (NAHEWD) created a customizable slide setExit Disclaimer to help educate substance use disorder treatment providers on how important tier role is in supporting HIV and hepatitis C testing, prevention, and treatment for their patients. The resource was developed as part of NAHEWD’s role in the SAMHSA- supported Opioid Response NetworkExit Disclaimer.

This technical assistance resource emphasizes that the guiding principles of substance use care—harm reduction, screening and other prevention interventions, treatment initiation, and linkage to ongoing medical care—are similar to those of viral hepatitis and HIV care. All models focus on patient safety and wellness, with effective medication being critical for the individual’s health and for related public health benefits.

While hepatitis C testing rates remain sub-optimal across opioid treatment programs, substance use providers have opportunities to test individuals who inject drugs for hepatitis C and HIV during both intake and follow-up visits, and to facilitate care or linkage to care and treatment when indicated. Identifying people who are early in their infection is critical because with timely diagnosis and curative treatment, people with hepatitis C can prevent potential severe outcomes such as liver disease, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even death.

Today’s highly effective curative treatment is the most powerful tool we have to achieve the goal of hepatitis C elimination. But to fully realize its potential, we need to increase hepatitis C efforts with people who use drugs who are most likely to transmit the virus to others. Increasing hepatitis C cure is possible through leveraging existing infrastructure and providing much-needed viral hepatitis and HIV services in the substance use disorder treatment programs that people who use drugs already access and trust. This slide set is ready-to-use to help call attention to and provide support for opportunities to cure hepatitis C.