Integrating comprehensive and collaborative hepatitis C virus (HCV) care within a Veterans Affairs residential treatment program can substantially increase diagnosis and treatment of HCV-infected veterans with substance use disorder (SUD), according to the results of an evaluation study for the period from December 2014 to April 2018.
A total of 97.5% (582/597) of patient admissions to the program were screened for HCV infection, and 12.7% (74/582) of the cases were confirmed to be HCV positive. All of the positive cases were sent to an infectious disease (ID) clinic for further evaluation and, if appropriate, to begin HCV pharmacotherapy, according to the report, published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.
Of the HCV-positive cases, 78.4% (58/74) received pharmacotherapy, with a sustained virologic response rate of 82.8% (48/58), wrote Mary Jane Burton, MD, of the G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center, Jackson, Miss., and her colleagues.
As part of the program, all veterans admitted to the SUD residential program were offered screening for HCV. Veterans with negative screening results received education about how to remain HCV negative via handouts and veterans who screened positive received brief supportive counseling and were referred to the ID clinic via a consult. Veterans confirmed to have chronic HCV infection receive education and evaluation in the HCV clinic while they attend the residential SUD program. Treatment for HCV is instituted as early as feasible and prescribing is in accordance with VA guidelines (Department of Veterans Affairs, 2018), with the goal of initiating pharmacotherapy treatment for HCV while the veteran is still in the residential program, according to the researchers.
Following discharge from the program, veterans on HCV treatment are scheduled for follow-up every 2 weeks in the HCV treatment clinic for the remainder of their pharmacotherapy, the researchers added.
Patient-level barriers to HCV treatment among the SUD population include reduced health literacy, low health care utilization, comorbid mental health conditions, and poor social support, according to the literature. Because multidisciplinary approaches to HCV treatment that mitigate these barriers have been shown to increase treatment uptake among these patients, the VA program was initiated, the researchers stated. Dr. Burton and her colleagues reported that 18.9% (14/74) of the HCV-positive cases were newly diagnosed and would have likely gone undetected without this program (.
“We have demonstrated that integrating a comprehensive HCV screening, education, referral, and treatment program within residential SUD treatment is feasible and effective in diagnosing previously unrecognized HCV infections, transitioning veterans into HCV care, and promoting treatment initiation,” the researchers concluded.
The Department of Veterans Affairs and the VA Center for Innovation supported the study. Dr. Burton reported research support from Merck Sharpe & Dohme.