World Hepatitis Day: Opiate substitution therapy reducing the rate of hepatitis C in people who inject drugs

28 July (SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA) - Opiate substitution therapy can protect against hepatitis C virus acquisition in people who inject drugs, according to a world-first study conducted by the Kirby Institute and collaborators at UNSW Australia presented at the recent International Aids Society conference in Vancouver.
Professor Lisa Maher, from the Kirby Institute presented the findings from the study that shows a protective effect of opioid substitution therapy (OST) on newly acquired hepatitis C infection (HCV) in people who inject drugs (PWID). “This is a very important finding,” said Professor Maher. “Globally only about 8% of PWID have access to OST. This is appalling when modelling suggests that scaling up OST to 50% world-wide could avert between one and two million HCV infections over the next ten years.”
Tuesday 28 July marks World Hepatitis Day, with Hepatitis Australia calling for action on viral hepatitis for the almost half a million Australians who are living with hepatitis B or C. Sharing drug injecting equipment is the principal route of hepatitis C transmission in Australia.
“Our research shows a remarkable decline in HCV incidence among Sydney’s drug users over the past decade,” says Professor Maher. The study analysed data from participants from three Sydney regions and found that the risk of acquiring HCV was 8% per year between 2009 and 2011, a marked drop from the risk of 31% per year seen in a similar cohort between 1999 and 2001. “The number of people receiving OST nationally has almost doubled since 1998 and this has been accompanied by a concurrent reduction in the population size of PWID. These two factors, combined with increased coverage of Needle and Syringe Programs, especially in NSW, are the likely key drivers of reduced HCV incidence.”

“These results suggest OST should be an essential component of any HCV prevention strategy, however it is not the only answer to HCV prevention,” said Professor Maher.  Co-author Professor Greg Dore added that “In order to significantly reduce the burden of the virus we also need to scale-up antiviral treatment and prophylactic vaccine development for HCV, as well as continue to support evidence-based interventions like needle and syringe programs and initiatives like World Hepatitis Day that raise awareness about the importance of prevention, testing and treatment for HCV.” 


Media requests:
Lucienne Bamford
Communications Officer
The Kirby Institute, UNSW Australia
+61 (02) 9385 0550


Date published: 
Tuesday, 28 July 2015