Drugs experts call for government backing to stop the spread of hepatitis C

A team of drugs researchers from Imperial College London want prevention campaigns supported by stronger government public health policies to help stop the continuing spread of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) among injecting drug users.

In a study, published in this month's Addiction, researchers conducted qualitative interviews with 59 injecting drug users, and found many were ignorant of the medical and transmission risks of HCV. Additionally, many thought that HCV was difficult to avoid or even inevitable.

Dr. Tim Rhodes, who is a Director of the Centre for Research on Drugs and Health Behaviour at Imperial College London, based at Charing Cross Hospital, and one of the study's authors, comments: "To date there has been a marked absence of targeted health education campaigns specific to HCV, and recently, a lack of national policy emphasis on the reduction of harm related to injecting drug use.

"Now, with as many as 200,000 people infected with HCV in the UK, the vast majority of them injecting drug users, there is an urgent need for targeted health promotion. The government needs to foster safer behaviour among injecting drug users as well as to increase their awareness of the risks of HCV. High profile government sponsored health education targeting injecting drug users about the risks of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s brought about behaviour change. We now need government sponsored and community-based campaigns specifically for HCV."

The study found that many intravenous drug users were not fully aware of the transmission risks of HCV, or its effects on health, and many were still sharing the paraphernalia used in intravenous drug taking, such as spoons and filters, which can harbour HCV if not properly disinfected.

It also found a variety of definitions of 'sharing', with injectors viewing the sharing of needles and syringes to be acceptable in exceptional circumstances and where there was a relationship of trust, or when the cir

Contact: Tony Stephenson
Imperial College London

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