Hep C Spreading in Southwest Virginia

Today, substance abuse is not what it used to be.

In fact, it is occurring on a much larger scale than ever before, especially when it comes to the injection of opioid-based substances like heroin.

While heroin is an opioid most commonly known for being injected when abused, other opioid medications are also being injected intravenously, such as Vicodin, OxyContin, and Fentanyl. As people throughout the country continue to abuse opioids in this specific manner, other health issues are starting to develop, including a dramatic rise in the instances of blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV.

For example, the state health commissioner in Virginia reported during a recent board of health meeting that both hepatitis C and HIV are bound to come in like a “tidal wave” to the area due to the amount of intravenous drug use.

It has been reported to the Virginia Department of Health that in 2014 alone, there were over 6,600 cases of hepatitis C within southwest Virginia. In 2015, more than 8,000 cases were reported in the same area, denoting a dramatic increase within the 12-month period.

Seeing an increase in the spread of hepatitis C is often a signal that a spread of HIV will soon follow. Within southwest Virginia, the amount of new cases of HIV has held steady at about 1,000 people since 2011. While this area is not currently seeing a dramatic increase in cases of HIV as it is with cases of hepatitis C, health professionals are not turning a blind idea to the fact that this deadly blood-borne illness will likely impact many more citizens within their area.

Like most states within the country, Virginia is seeing an increase in substance abuse across the board. When an increase of substance abuse occurs, it also means that those who are abusing substances are finding new and effective ways to use the substance of their choice so they can continue to obtain the high they desire. For many, the best route of admission of these substances is intravenous use, which includes the use of needles.

Sadly, abusing substances in this manner is highly risky for a number of reasons, particularly because it is a simple way to spread blood-borne diseases. For instance, someone who is abusing substances such as opioids intravenously is likely to lack the clarity of mind needed to ensure that the needles he or she is using are safe and sterile. In fact, the more of the substance that is abused, the more likely the user becomes to lose sight of hygiene altogether.

Additionally, if the user abuses injectable substances amongst a group of other people on a regular basis, it can be easy to pick up someone else’s needle and use it even if it has already been used. Sadly, an individual who abuses in the same place on a regular basis might use whatever needle he or she can find just to inject the drug and obtain the high, not knowing who could have possibly used it.

While this is a current issue that is continuing to increase within southwest Virginia and throughout the country, those within this area are working to reduce harm through specialized programming. This programming includes providing intravenous drug users with a space to properly dispose of their used needles, offering education about the dangers of sharing needles, and supplying the public with clean needles to decrease the spread of infection.