Young adults who inject drugs and are infected with hepatitis C virus “face unique barriers to HCV testing, counseling, and treatment,” according to Margie R. Skeer, ScD, of Tufts University, Boston, and her fellow researchers.
Dr. Skeer and her colleagues found five themes in 24 in-depth interviews with people aged 22-30 years who inject drugs and have HCV infection. At the time of the interviews, none of the patients had received the newer HCV treatment regimens ().
These themes captured the knowledge of and experience of HCV along the continuum of care:
1. Deservingness of HCV treatment and stigma.
2. Dissatisfaction with provider interactions.
3. Perceived lack of referral to treatment and care continuity.
4. Disincentives around HCV treatment for PWID.
5. Perceived need for treatment.
The interviewees were largely uninformed about HCV prior to diagnosis and reported learning more about the virus after their diagnosis. They also tended to affirm the belief that they did not deserve treatment. They felt stigmatized by insurance companies and clinicians, thereby reducing their engagement in the care continuum. And, at the time, insurance companies enforced “sobriety” restrictions dictating the length of time patients had to be off drugs before qualifying for HCV treatment. In the words of one interviewee: “[Caregivers] have a big stigma when it comes to addicts. ... Their whole demeanor changes. They rush you, they slam things, they are very impatient with you, and it is very saddening to see.”
Interviewees reported no or incomplete referrals or being given pamphlets and flyers. They reported little follow-up as to whether they sought additional care, and experienced a lack of confidence from medical professionals that they could be counted on to adhere to an HCV treatment regimen.
Interviewees stated that injection drug use and HCV are inevitably linked, and that IV drug users will eventually contract HCV infections.
“Hep C’s no big deal, Hep C’s like the common cold for the junkie. ... It might take 5 years away from your, you know, life but, you know, we’re not even gonna live that long anyways, so who cares about it anyway,” remarked a 28-year old woman, who was not currently injecting drugs.
The study authors said there is an increased need to provide patient-oriented care for young injection drug users and described the potential benefits of some insurance companies reducing their sobriety and disease severity restrictions.
“Reducing stigma among healthcare professionals, which cuts across the different levels of the HCV care continuum, improving referral patterns and continuity of care, better informing people about their HCV status through patient-oriented testing and disclosure experiences, and reducing perceptions of personal responsibility for disease are crucial next steps to increasing treatment as prevention,” Dr. Skeer and her colleagues concluded.
The authors reported that they had no conflicts of interest.