Cartoon of a man's hand signing a billMonday, the Senate passed the Opioid Crisis Response Act by a 99-1 vote. The Act provides many changes to several federal health and human service programs to address opioid and substance use disorders. A critical component of this legislation is the inclusion of a $40 million appropriation from 2019-2023 to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for surveillance of infectious diseases associated with illicit drug use, such as viral hepatitis, HIV, and infective endocarditis. 

This funding is a welcome benefit to efforts to collect better data on the hepatitis C epidemic in this country. Hepatitis C affects over 3.5 million Americans, yet resources allocations to support prevention and treatment efforts are severely lacking. As a result, there is little comprehensive national surveillance data on the true impact and movement of hepatitis C within the population. Collection and analysis of hepatitis C data is inconsistent across the country, usually due to minimal resources available to put towards the effort.

The national focus on the devastating opioid crisis has led to public and political prioritization and support of efforts to combat the toll it is taking on society. Those of us who work in the viral hepatitis realm have fought hard to make sure that the increased risk of transmission of blood borne infections such as hepatitis C and HIV from intravenous drug misuse remains a part of the conversation and the public health strategies proposed to deal with the opioid epidemic. Substance use brings with it a host of other health and social challenges that must all be addressed through holistic strategies in order for efforts to curtail the adverse effects to be successful. It take more that getting people to stop using illicit drugs; you have to take care of their overall health and all of the repercussions that come with substance abuse.

The complete text of the Opioid Crisis Response Act can be found here.

For more information on hepatitis C news and policy, visit the O’Neill Institute’s Hepatitis Policy Project website.