America’s Increase in Hepatitis C Linked to Opioid Crisis

Last Updated on October 12, 2021

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the number of Hepatitis C cases skyrocketed over a five-year period to an estimated 34,000 new hepatitis C cases in 2015, nearly tripling the number in 2010.1

The quickly-spreading blood borne disease is fueled by the opioid crisis, affecting mostly young, white drug users, ages 20 to 29, who inject opioids and heroin with needles.

According to the CDC, 3.5 million Americans are living with hepatitis C, a disease that kills more Americans than any other infectious disease reported to the CDC.1 Although the majority of those currently living with the disease are baby boomers, the sharp increase in numbers among young people is extremely concerning.

Hepatitis C: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention

Hepatitis C is a disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus. It can be both chronic and acute. Hepatitis C is spread by coming into contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person. This most often occurs through the sharing infected needles and drugs, being stuck by an infected needle, the transfusion of unscreened blood or blood products, or having sex with someone who has HIV or an STD. It can also be spread during childbirth.2

Although millions of Americans currently have hepatitis C, most of them don’t know they have it because it causes very few symptoms. In some instances, symptoms may not occur until decades after the person is infected.

Those that do experience symptoms may experience stomach pain, nausea, yellowing of the skin and eyes, dark urine, fatigue, and loss of appetite. A significant number of individuals who are diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C will also develop liver cancer of cirrhosis.3

If you have ever injected drugs, you are at advanced risk of getting hepatitis C, so the best prevention is to not inject illegal substances. Additionally, you should always be careful about getting a tattoo, manicure, or piercing, as the equipment could be unsterile. Always do your research and make sure the professionals at the tattoo shop, nail salon, or piercing studio are well-informed and are practicing safe and sterile habits.

What Can We Do to Solve This Problem?

Although antiviral medicines have the ability to cure more than 95 percent of individuals with hepatitis C infection, access to diagnosis and treatment remains very low.1 Improving access to these life-saving services could reduce the number of illnesses and death associated with hepatitis C.

Additionally, a press release from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine reported that hepatitis C could potentially be completely eradicated, but the new drugs are costly—about an average of $30,000 per person.4 The press release also noted that prevention and eradication of this disease would require “aggressive testing, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention methods, such as needle exchanges.”

According to a recently published Huffington Post article, state lawmakers are recommending an increase in syringe exchange programs to help prevent the spread of hepatitis C among drug users, but there is local backlash from lawmakers and residents in some areas who believe providing sterile needles will only encourage drug abusers to continue doing what they’re doing instead of addressing the real problem: the substance abuse.5

The Importance of Alcohol and Drug Rehab Programs

Although it does seem like the odds are stacked against us, another way we can help prevent the spread of hepatitis C is by seeking help for ourselves or for loved ones who are suffering from addiction, especially those are actively injecting opioids and heroin.

Seeking out a reputable rehab center such as Nova Recovery Center is the best way to help a loved one overcome an addiction or substance abuse problem. Research shows that long-term alcohol and drug rehab provides the best results when compared to programs with lengths of 30 or even 60 days.6 Our full continuum of care will carry your loved one through detox, into a long-term residential drug and alcohol rehab center and then guide them all the way through IOP and sober living. We even provide aftercare programs for alumni.

This thorough approach provides quality care and continued treatment that results in real, lasting change. We offer 90-day alcohol and drug rehab programs to provide an adequate amount of time for clients to adjust to a new way of living and truly engage in their recovery instead of just faking it.

If you fear for your loved one’s health and safety, especially as the opioid and hepatitis C crisis lingers on, please don’t hesitate to call our drug and alcohol rehab center today. Our admissions team is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year to take your call.


  1. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p-hepatitis-c-infections-tripled.html
  2. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs164/en/
  3. http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=24731
  4. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/with-opioid-crisis-a-surge-in-hepatitis-c_us_59a41ed5e4b0a62d0987b0c4
  5. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment
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