By Kat Humphries
Programs Director, Harm Reduction Action Center
In the midst of an opioid epidemic, and with rates of injection drug use on the rise in the United States, it’s time we start seriously discussing hepatitis C – starting with one of the most common rumors passed around: you cannot give yourself hepatitis C. That’s right folks, hepatitis C is a virus! That means it doesn’t come from contact with your own old or dried blood, it can only be given to you through blood to blood contact with someone else with the virus present in their blood. This is why syringe access programs (syringe exchanges) are such important public health interventions, to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C by providing sterile injection materials such as syringes, and other materials necessary to convert street drugs into an injectable, bloodlike solution.
While many people are aware that sharing used syringes puts you at risk of contracting bloodborne illnesses, it’s important that we also discuss that sharing injecting materials such as water, cookers, tourniquets, cottons and other works can also put you at risk. Anything that may be coming into contact with your blood and is being shared increases your risk factors. And don’t forget – this also applies to splitting drugs wet. If you’re using a syringe to divide doses, make sure the syringe is sterile!
BUT WAIT – there’s more! People who inject drugs are not the only ones who need this information! Some studies indicate that snorting drugs can put you at risk of contracting hepatitis C if you share snorting materials. Snorting drugs brings the substance directly into contact with the lining of your nasal cavity. Drugs can cause blood vessels to rupture, allowing tiny amounts of blood to leak out onto your straw. Just remember – the transmission of ANY blood can put you at risk of exposure!
Most importantly, it’s good to know your personal risk factors. In the United States, the average age of folks dying from fatal overdose has plummeted. People are beginning to use drugs at earlier ages, which means people are at risk of hepatitis C from an earlier age. From 2015 to 2016, Colorado alone saw a 33% increase in newly diagnosed cases of hepatitis C for people under 30. If you use drugs and share equipment, make sure you are getting tested regularly so you know your status and can prioritize your health!