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High Cost Of Not Treating Hep C In Drug Users

High Cost Of Not Treating Hepatitis C In Drug Users

Researchers at the Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Otago University, have revealed there will be increasingly heavy costs on the health system of up to $400 million as a result of not treating intravenous drug (IDU) users for Hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is endemic amongst the 19,000 estimated users of injected drugs, with some 84% having the potentially fatal disease, but most do not get early treatment. The disease has wide-ranging long-term health complications for individuals, including cirrhosis and terminal liver disease. Numbers with Hepatitis C are now growing rapidly with 1300 new infections a year, adding to the current total of 25,000 with the condition.

Health Economist, Ian Sheerin, from the National Addiction Centre at the Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences says the lack of strategic screening, management and treatment for IDUs with Hepatitis C will cost the country dearly in coming years. He says there will be a multiplier effect in terms of increased health costs through extra GP visits, diagnostic tests, hospital outpatient follow-up, and inpatient admissions for liver cirrhosis and liver transplants.

“The figures should be of concern to health planners. There has been little official recognition of the implications of these escalating costs which will run into many millions of dollars in future,” says Ian Sheerin. “ My research predicts that there will be a cost of between $166 and $400 million over the next 30 years because of a lack of adequate treatment of Hepatitis C at present.”

The study which is funded by the Health Research Council, shows there are several reasons for the current situation of testing but not treating Hepatitis C. These include the slow progression of the disease, lack of awareness, low priority, lack of health funding, and reluctance of IDUs to present for treatment.

Ian Sheerin says there is also the attitude amongst some members of the public that drug users don’t deserve any treatment at all. He says this is short-term thinking that will rebound on the taxpayer as more intravenous drug users end up in hospital with complications as a result of advanced Hepatitis C infection. With Hepatitis C, early intervention is arguably the most rational economic course to follow, resulting in fewer cases of severe liver disease while benefiting the patient at the same time.

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