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Acta Med Croatica. 2009 Dec;63(5):437-42.

[Prevention and treatment of hepatitis C in illicit drug users].

[Article in Croatian]

Author information

  • 1Government Center for Prevention and Outpatient Treatment of Addiction, Sestre milosrdnice University Hospital, Zagreb, Croatia.


Drug use is a complex behavior with multidimensional determinants, including social, psychological, cultural, economic, and biological factors. Blood borne viral infections including hepatitis C virus are transmitted when an uninfected intravenous drug user (IVDU) uses injection equipment, especially syringes, that have previously been used by an infected person. The transmission can also result from sharing other injection equipment such as 'cookers' and 'cottons'. Recent studies have shown that the prevalence and incidence of drug abuse have declined substantially since the introduction of needle exchange. Infection with hepatitis C may spontaneously resolve during the acute stage and never progress to chronic infection, or the infection may become chronic without medical complications, or the infection may become chronic with progressive medical complications. Regular testing for infection is an important strategy for secondary prevention of chronic hepatitis C infection. Care for hepatitis C is a vital component of a comprehensive health program for persons using illicit drugs. Such care includes screening for transmission risk behavior, prevention counseling and education, testing for HCV antibody and RNA. IDUs found to have chronic HCV infection should be assessed for the presence and degree of liver disease and evaluated for treatment for HCV Hepatitis C care also requires providing access to treatment for substance use and abuse. Therapy with opioid agonists, including methadone maintenance treatment, has been shown to diminish and often eliminate opioid use and reduce transmission of infection. Approval of buprenorphine makes office-based pharmacotherapy for opioid addiction possible. When considering treatment for hepatitis C, particular attention must be paid to mental health conditions. As a group, IDUs exhibit higher rates of comorbid psychiatric disorders than the general population. IFN-based regimens for hepatitis C are often complicated by neuropsychiatric adverse effects, including depression, insomnia, and irritability. Strong linkages with mental health services, whether on-site or within the community, are a vital component of comprehensive health programs for IDUs and are particularly important during treatment for hepatitis C. Past episodes of depression or other psychiatric disorders are not absolute contraindications for the treatment for HCV infection. Some authors recommend prophylactic antidepressant therapy before initiating treatment for HCV in patients thought to be at a high risk of depression.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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