Myth-busting

“I’m bound to have it so why get tested”

You may assume that if you inject drugs you are bound to have HCV or HIV. However, this is not necessarily the case – in fact, 99% of injecting drug users DO NOT have HIV. The only way to be sure that you are virus free is to get tested. Importantly, you can stay healthy by learning how to avoid infections in the future. If you do test positive for a virus, you can learn to prevent transmission and learn how to take steps to manage or cure your infection.

“Treatment is ineffective”

Hepatitis C is a curable illness. You have a 60–90% chance of curing your HCV infection if you decide to enter treatment. Importantly, HCV medications are continuing to improve. Every year sees more effective treatments with fewer side effects as well as shorter treatment durations. A HCV infection can now be cleared in as little as 12 weeks.

Most people completely recover from hepatitis A and acute hepatitis B without treatment. Chronic hepatitis B can be treated with antiviral medication if necessary. These medications are very effective at suppressing the virus, preventing liver damage that could lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

While currently there is no cure for HIV, there are treatments available that prevent the disease from progressing to AIDS. This means that many people with the virus can live a long and healthy life and seeking treatment early will give you the best chance possible.

Injection-site bacterial infections can often be treated successfully with antibiotics; treatment that is started quickly can help you avoid complications such as sepsis, which can be life-threatening.

“The side effects from HCV treatment are unbearable”

Treatments for HCV have improved a lot in recent years and are continuing to move forward, with newer medications becoming available that have fewer side effects. Traditionally, the most effective medical treatment for HCV consisted of taking two drugs: pegylated interferon and ribavirin. Interferon, in particular, may result in side effects such as flu-like symptoms. In comparison, new treatments are more effective and interferon-free treatments, which have minimal side effects, are now available. These treatments can achieve patient cure rates of over 90% in as little as 12 weeks.

“I probably won’t get treatment as I am a drug user”

Treatment should be available to everybody regardless of whether you have decided to engage in recovery from heroin/opioid-dependence. It is your right to request and be given treatment. In addition, there is no reason why you cannot also be treated for infections at the same time as your heroin/opioid dependence.

“I need to be clean before I can get treatment”

You do not need to stop taking drugs to be treated for drug-related health complications – everybody is entitled to treatment. It’s unfortunately true that if your GP doesn’t want to provide you with treatment they don’t have to; however, they do have to refer you to someone who can help if they won’t. If you have been refused treatment for HCV, you can call The Hepatitis C Trust on 0845 223 4424 or 020 7089 6221 and they will help you to access treatment.

If you do carry on taking drugs while being treated, for HCV for example, it is important to take steps to minimise the risk of contracting the virus again, such as safer injecting. Furthermore, if you do have hepatitis then you may be advised to stop drinking alcohol or cut down on alcohol consumption in order to help the liver to stay healthy.