Originally published by Reuters on December 7, 2017. Written by Robert Greenwald, faculty director of the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation of Harvard Law School and Ryan Clary, executive director of the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable.
The American epidemic of opioid abuse is finally getting the attention it warrants. While policy solutions continue to be inadequate, the decision by President Trump to declare a national opioid emergency has helped to increase discussion about the problem and how the country can solve it. But the conversation also needs to address a dangerous—and largely ignored—interconnected public health crisis wreaking havoc among young Americans.
The problem is that more Americans than ever are injecting opioids and inadvertently infecting themselves with hepatitis C. Shared needles mean shared blood-borne infections—and that’s how the opioid crisis has created a new generation of hepatitis C patients. The number of reported hepatitis C infections nearly tripled from 2010 to 2015, with the virus is spreading at an unprecedented rate among young people under 30—who are now, for the first time, the most at-risk population for contracting and transmitting hepatitis C.
In the United States, an estimated 3.5 million people, and likely more, are currently living with hepatitis C. The virus kills nearly 20,000 Americans each year—more than HIV and all other infectious diseases combined.