Hepatitis C is a viral infection that attacks the liver. It has lifelong consequences, often leading to the need for a liver transplant and is highly contagious. There are two types of disease caused by this deadly virus: acute and chronic. Acute hepatitis C usually shows symptoms six months after exposure, and is a short-term infection. In more than 75 percent of cases, it leads to the second type, chronic hepatitis C, which has lifelong consequences. According to the CDC, more than 16,000 people have the acute form of the disease, and 3 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C and don’t yet know it.
How Is Hepatitis C Transmitted?
Hepatitis C can be caused or transmitted in several ways, including:
- Intravenous drug use
- Tattooing needles
- Long-term alcohol abuse
- Sharing needles with an infected person
- Sexual contact with an infected person
- Mother-to-child transmission during birth
By far, more people contract hepatitis C through intravenous drug use than any other mode of transmission.
Which Drugs Can Lead to Hepatitis C Infection?
Any drug that can be injected into the veins can cause hepatitis C. The list is long, since many drugs either come in liquid form or can be “cooked” from powder for a fast, potent high. Cocaine, heroin, LSD, crack and methamphetamine are only a few of the illegal street drugs that place a person at high risk. Prescription opiates like morphine, oxycontin, Dilaudid are other potential sources of infection. So are antidepressants, such as ketamine, Paxil and a host of others. Just about the only drug that isn’t readily injectable in one way or another is marijuana.
The drug of choice is not really the issue, though any drug taken outside of a doctor’s orders can cause liver damage. Even over-the-counter drugs like aspirin and Tylenol can be abused to the point of chronic liver disease. The real issue is contaminated needles. Any shared needle that comes in contact with an infected person’s blood retains that blood and the microscopic virus. When a needle is shared, blood and virus particles are injected into a new circulatory system and the infection is transmitted.
Which Drugs Put an Addict at Highest Risk?
Heroin addiction is ripping through the fabric of society in ways not previously heard of in suburbs and rural areas all over the country. In 2013, 1.8 percent of people aged 12 or older reported having used heroin in their lifetimes. Snorting and smoking heroin is usually the first experience, quickly followed by injection as the need for a faster and bigger dose is brought on by the body’s tolerance for the drug. Heroin is illegal, raising the risk of addicts using shared needles. It’s an expensive high, leading to risky behavior because clean syringes may not be easy to get. Methamphetamine and crack cocaine also follow this pattern.
Drug abuse by injection is by far the fastest high for an addict. The mind altering aspects of the drug and impaired judgment while under the influence can lead to all of the other risk factors listed here. In other words, an addict who’s high is more likely to have unprotected sex with an infected person, get a tattoo with a shared or contaminated needle, or abuse other drugs that compound the risk.
What Are the Symptoms of Hepatitis C?
The following symptoms of Hepatitis C can appear as soon as 6-8 weeks after exposure, but can take years to develop, depending on whether it is chronic or acute.
- yellowing eyes and skin
- dark urine and pale stools
- fatigue, nausea and lack of appetite
Long term effects of untreated hepatitis C include cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer. The disease, if caught early, is treatable, and advances in treatment are occurring all the time.
How to Get Help
If you or someone you love is falling into the downward spiral of intravenous drug abuse, the most important thing to do is to get help now. That help is available, no matter what your circumstances or stage of addiction may be. Drug rehabilitation and treatment centers can help you and your loved ones step back from the edge of drug addiction with detox, therapy, counseling and ongoing support. Call today to begin a life-saving conversation and start on the path to a drug-free life.