Used heroin needles suspected in rise of hepatitis C cases

Author:
Updated:
Original:

Health officials suspect the rising rate of heroin use in Minnesota may be tied to the increase of people being diagnosed with hepatitis C in the state, Minnesota Public Radio reports.

Officials fear the spread of hepatitis C – a disease that can destroy one's liver – is being exacerbated by the sharing of needles.

"Certainly, hepatitis C is transmitted through injection drug use, so people who inject drugs are at high risk of getting hepatitis C," Minnesota Department of Health epidemiologist Kristin Sweet tells MPR. "If we see increases in injection drug use, it makes sense that we'd see hepatitis C as well."

According to MPR, hepatitis C is the most common blood-born pathogen across the nation. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the most common way the disease is spread is "sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs."

The National Institute on Drug Abuse goes into specific detail why heroin users are at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C.

Sweet tells MPR that 32 Minnesotans were diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2012; but the actual number of people who contract the disease is more because many people do not develop symptoms and as a result, don't get tested.

In May, the department estimated about 39,000 people were living with the disease statewide, KSTP said.

Advocates tell MPR that needle exchange programs – which provide new syringes to users and destroy old ones – are effective in stopping the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, but there's a stigma that it also encourages drug use. That stigma in turn makes it difficult to obtain funding for such programs.

MPR says only three standalone needle exchanges operate in the state.

Meanwhile, counties in the metro area are trying to get a handle on the rising number of heroin-related deaths.

Last month, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said 54 people died of heroin overdose in the county 2013, making it the deadliest year yet for such deaths in the county. Stanek said the number was seven times higher than just three years prior, when eight people died from heroin overdoses.

In addition, Anoka County officials held three community forums in January and February to address the escalating problem of heroin use.

Anoka County law enforcement officials say the number of deaths due to heroin overdoses in the county has tripled in the last two years.

According to KSTP, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar was at the Feb. 17 forum to talk about her strategy to urge the Drug Enforcement Agency to focus on the jump in heroin use.

Next Up

vaccine, covid

St. Paul care home group will mandate COVID vaccines for staff

It comes amid reports of COVID outbreaks at homes where residents are all vaccinated, but staff are not.

Jail handcuffs arrest

Starbuck man charged with uploading, sharing child pornography

The 47-year-old was arrested after a tip from the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children.

ambulance

Boy, 11, seriously injured after 'fall' that police now suspect was abuse

It was initially reported that the boy slipped and fell.

police lights

Investigation underway after body found during welfare check in Plato

The identity of the deceased has not yet been revealed.

Mayor Brad Wiersum

'Please, please, please get vaccinated,' Minnetonka mayor pleads

This comes as the local state of emergency officially ends.

YouTube - Jeopardy screengrab minneapolis

Can you answer all the Minneapolis questions from this week's 'Jeopardy?'

KARE personalities including Randy Shaver and Rena Sarigianopoulos presented the clues.

Pexels - woman shop mask covid CROP

35 counties, including most of Twin Cities, now COVID hotspots

The CDC recommends everyone wear a mask in public, indoor places in these counties.

covid, coronavirus

CDC document: Delta variant as contagious as chickenpox

Vaccines remain very effective at preventing severe illness from the delta variant, however.

Flickr - smoke McGregor minnesota wildfire July 29 2021 - Lorie Shaull

'Unprecedented': The wildfire smoke isn't going anywhere this weekend

The air quality alert that was supposed to end Friday is now in effect into early next week.

Alexis Saborit

Charges: Woman killed in horrific Shakopee attack was trying to leave suspect

The shocking incident happened at an intersection Wednesday afternoon.

3M Open, Tony Finau

Multiple injuries after pickup crashes into shuttle bus at 3M Open

Blaine police listed 25 people as being involved in the collision.

Related

Mayo Clinic study says hepatitis C behind rise in liver cancer

Researchers are calling for more screening for the disease after a new study shows scarring from the infection can develop into liver cancer. MPR reports the study could have particular impact on the Somali community, where hepatitis C is more prevalent than suspected.