SAMHSA Announces New Funding Announcement for Rapid Hepatitis C Screening in Drug Treatment Programs

Content From: Ronald Valdiserri, M.D., M.P.H., Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health, Infectious Diseases, and Director, Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesPublished: February 25, 20133 min read


Ronald Valdiserri Dr. Ronald ValdiserriLast week, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) announced a new $1 million funding opportunity that supports rapid hepatitis C virus (HCV) screening and referral to care in non profit opioid treatment programs (OTPs)—programs that offer medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorders. Designed to address the high prevalence of HCV infection among injecting drug users (IDUs) in OTPs, the grant program advances one of the priorities of the Action Plan for the Prevention, Care and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis, which calls for reducing viral hepatitis caused by drug-use behaviors. To more comprehensively address this disproportionate impact of HCV among IDUs, grantees under the new program will be required to integrate efforts to prevent new viral hepatitis infections, provide rapid HCV testing to identify hepatitis-infected persons, and to facilitate better linkages and referrals to HCV care and treatment.

Injection-drug use is a primary risk factor for exposure to blood-borne pathogens such as the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and HCV because of needle-sharing and other drug-related behaviors. Among new cases of hepatitis C reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), injection-drug use is the most common risk factor. Research shows that IDUs have high rates of viral hepatitis infection with an estimated 64 percent chronically infected with HCV and up to 11 percent chronically infected with HBV. IDUs are not only disproportionately affected by these viruses, but they are also more likely to have adverse hepatitis-related health outcomes compared to other infected populations -- primarily because of related health conditions (known as "co-morbidities") and inadequate access to and receipt of needed health services.

In addition, most people with hepatitis C do not know they are infected because they don’t look or feel sick and have never been tested. In fact, a recent survey of HCV-positive individuals reported by Denniston, et al last year in HepatologyExit Disclaimer revealed that 51% of persons with HCV infection interviewed were unaware of their infection prior to being tested as part of the survey. “Other studies suggest that among IDUs, an even greater percentage is unaware of their HCV status,” notes Corinna Dan, R.N., M.P.H., Viral Hepatitis Policy Advisor, HHS Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy. “Increasing the proportion of persons aware of their HCV infection is a key goal of the Viral Hepatitis Action Plan. So, SAMHSA’s new HCV screening and referral program will help address this low awareness of HCV infection status and connect those diagnosed with HCV to care and treatment that can slow the advance of the disease and reduce the likelihood of onward transmission.”

SAMHSA anticipates making 25 awards for up to $40,000 each. Applications are due April 5, 2013. Read the full grant announcement.