Hep C: What Every Addict Should Know
Using drugs carries many risks. Addicts have to be constantly vigilant about avoiding the danger that lurks around every corner and in the bottom of every bag. Ultra-strong heroin that could kill them, drugs cut with rat poison and other chemicals, the dealer who’s planning on robbing them and contracting a variety of diseases are just a few of the many circumstances that could spell trouble for an addict. Hepatitis C is one of the most commonly spread diseases among addicts. Hep C is a serious medical condition and there’s a lot that every addict should know about this disease.
Hepatitis C is a very serious liver disease that is caused by the hepatitis C virus. The function of the liver is to eliminate waste materials from the blood. The liver processes blood and filters toxins so they can’t cause damage to the rest of the body. The liver is also responsible for producing bile, which helps to digest food and also stores glucose and vitamins. Inflammation makes it difficult for the liver to perform these vital functions. A chronic, ongoing and untreated hep C infection can lead to cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, requiring a liver transplant. Hepatitis C can also lead to skin problems, blood disorders, severe liver damage, liver cancer and liver failure. Hepatitis C is transmitted between people by blood to blood contact. It can be contracted by sharing needles, dirty tattoo and piercing equipment, promiscuity and sexual acts that cause any type of bleeding. Basically, any time a person’s blood has the potential to come into contact with another person’s blood, there is the risk of infection.
IV (intavenous) drug users are considered to be “super spreaders” of hep C because of the compulsive nature of addiction and the frequency of engaging in unsafe behavior. In 2013 a study on hep C found that every IV drug addict with hep C is likely to transmit the disease to 20 other addicts, and this rapid transmition of hep C occurs within the first three years after a person has become infected themselves (Magiorkinis, G., et al., Integrating phylodynamics and epidemiology to estimate transmission diversity in viral epidemics. PLoS Comput Biol, 2013. 9(1): p. e1002876). With nearly 3.9 million people in the U.S. who are infected with hep C, the odds are against the addict who puts themselves at risk by sharing needles and engaging in unprotected, rough sex that can lead to bleeding.
One of the scariest things about hep C is that there are virtually no symptoms of the disease at first. Many, many addicts out there are infected and have no clue. Since the initial symptoms of a hep C infection are so mild, many addicts don’t find out they have it for a long time because it can take as long as 20-30 years before symptoms become severe enough to be noticed.
Some of the symptoms of liver damage are:
- Feeling very tired
- Joint pain
- Belly pain
- Itchy skin
- Sore muscles
- Dark urine
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes
If you’re an IV drug user, you’re on the frontlines for infection due to dirty needles, unprotected sex that results in bleeding and other risky behaviors.
So if you’re addicted, seek drug treatment.
There are good drug rehabilitation centers out there that can get to the root cause of your addiction and help to get you drug free for good.
Getting Rid of the Virus
The good news is that hepatitis C is completely preventable and treatable. Some literature suggests that hep C is not treatable, but new advances in medicine are having great results. If you’re already infected, once you get clean, there are several courses of treatment that can be undertaken to eradicate the hep C virus (antiviral medication are available, which are taken for 12 weeks to a year). Treating your hep C as soon as possible can prevent serious liver damage that could result in the need for a liver transplant. New advances in treatment offer a wider variety of treatment options that are shorter in duration, easier to tolerate, have less side-effects and are more effective in getting rid of the virus.
Here are some helpful links:
Hepatitis C is a completely preventable and curable illness. With addiction being an overwhelming problem in this country, the disease continues to spread and affect millions of IV drug users. If you or someone you love is an IV drug user and may have contracted hep C, the first step is to get help and get treatment for the drug addiction. The second step is to get tested to determine whether or not you or your loved one is infected. In the case of a positive test, there are many treatment options available to get rid of the virus. Having hep C is not a death sentence. It is totally possible to treat the disease, get healthy and live a long, sober, fulfilling life. In the end, it’s up to the addict to get the help they need.