17% Of The Prison Population Has Hepatitis C, Here’s How That Could Change

George Lavender June 22, 2016

Hepati­tis C affects an esti­mat­ed 1% of the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion but 17% of the prison pop­u­la­tion. Until rel­a­tive­ly recent­ly, treat­ment for the dis­ease had extreme­ly lim­it­ed suc­cess rates and high­ly unpleas­ant side effects. That’s changed with the intro­duc­tion of new drugs that are sig­nif­i­cant­ly more effec­tive at treat­ing the disease.

How­ev­er, not all pris­on­ers have been able to receive the new drugs, some­thing that has prompt­ed some pris­on­ers to take cor­rec­tions depart­ments in Mass­a­chu­setts, Min­neso­ta and Penn­syl­va­nia to court. At issue is the cost of the new­er drugs. Take Solva­di and Har­voni, for exam­ple, two of the most suc­cess­ful new drugs. A sin­gle pill of each costs $1,000 and $1,125 respec­tive­ly. Prison depart­ments that are using the new­er treat­ments have seen their spend­ing on Hepati­tis C increase dramatically.

A study pub­lished ear­li­er this year in the Annals of Inter­nal Med­i­cine argues that treat­ing Hepati­tis C in pris­ons, has con­se­quences out­side prison walls as well. In fact, the study claims that the move is cost-effec­tive in the long-run. This was a recent sto­ry I pro­duced for Marketplace:

Dr. Jag­preet Chhat­w­al, assis­tant pro­fes­sor of radi­ol­o­gy at Har­vard Med­ical School, has stud­ied the eco­nom­ics of treat­ing hepati­tis C in pris­ons and said that while the drugs are expen­sive, liv­er trans­plants and treat­ment for patients with hepati­tis C in its lat­er stages are also costly.

He said treat­ing the dis­ease in prison is worth it in the long run because cut­ting the num­ber of infect­ed peo­ple in prison has a dra­mat­ic impact on the num­ber of peo­ple liv­ing with the dis­ease soci­ety wide. That’s because the aver­age length of time any­one spends in prison is three years, but it can take 20 or even 30 years before the more dam­ag­ing con­se­quences of hepati­tis C man­i­fest. By that point, the major­i­ty of those who had been in prison have been released and would require treat­ment in the community.

Chhat­w­al said his find­ings show that if all pris­ons test­ed all pris­on­ers and treat­ed all those who need­ed it, they would diag­nose between 41,900 and 122,700 neses of the dis­ease in prison over 30 years. To do this, he said, would require pris­ons on aver­age to ramp up spend­ing by an extra 12 per­cent. Con­tin­ue reading… 

George Laven­der is an award-win­ning radio and print jour­nal­ist based in Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @GeorgeLavender.
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