State, local health officials react to drug-related increase in hepatitis C

New hepatitis C cases on the rise

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - State and local health officials react to the federal Centers for Disease Control announcement that the number of new hepatitis C infections nearly tripled between 2010 and 2015, reaching a 15 year high.

"Louisiana has a big burden of Hepatitis-C and and already now we have about 70,000 cases, 35,000 of them are either uninsured, or Medicaid which would be under my purview. We got news yesterday hot off the presses that the rate has tripled in the last few years and its tripling among young people.  We know that we have an outbreak of opioid use and injecting drug use and it's among all people in this state," said Dr. Rebekah Gee, head of the Louisiana Department of Health.

Dr. Gee said there has been a major uptick in the use of injectable drugs and Louisiana is not immune.

"And so the problem of being able to give drugs and cure hepatitis-C is only going to get worse. We also have a problem with the price of these drugs.  The companies want to charge $30,000 to 45,000 a person for us at a discount rate for us to give these drugs. If we were to cover it just for the people we have, not to mention the tripling that we know about as of yesterday, this would be a $760 million state general fund cost to our state," said Dr. Gee.

"The CDC mentioned that hep C rates have tripled since 2010 and they're telling us things that we already assumed which is the vast majority of new cases are from injection drug uses, people sharing or reusing needles," said Dr. Joe Kanter, Medical Director for the City of New Orleans.

He said people at risk for the disease should get tested as soon as possible.

"Hep-C is a virus that attacks your liver and one of the most concerning things about Hep-C is that most people who have it don't know that they have it.  You remain A-symptomatic for what could be many, many years until you develop liver failure and become quite sick, so the key is to get people who are at risk, tested," said Dr. Kanter.

Even though the state has limited funds, Gee said they continue to work to reduce the infection.

"Our needle exchange, obviously preventing the addiction in the first place. One very important thing we're working on is making sure we do prescription limits on opioids because 80-percent of the people who are addicted to heroin and addicted to opioids start off with a prescription in a doctor's office and if they have that gene that turns on that's an addiction gene they have a probability of ending up on heroin," said Dr. Gee.

New Orleans' medical director said people at risk for Hep-C should get tested, refrain from sharing needles and there are free syringe programs in the city which include:

New Orleans Syringe Access Program, operated by CrescentCare Clinic's CAN office at 507 Frenchmen Street. The phone number is  504-945-4000.

Women With A Vision, 1226 N Broad St,  and the number to call is 504-301-0428.

New Orleans Harm Reduction Network (Trystereo), a mobile response unit which the public can contact by texting 504-535-4766.

City Hall said anyone suffering from opioid addiction should call Metropolitan Human Services District (MHSD) at 504-568-3130 to learn what treatment options are available.

Copyright 2017 WVUE. All rights reserved.