New Drugs, Approaches May Improve Hepatitis C Treatments

Hepatitis C is prevalent among substance users, and many barriers prevent these patients from receiving treatment. A symposium today will look at new treatments and treatment models that have the potential to break down these barriers and improve outcomes.

Symposium 8, “Addressing Care for Hepatitis C Virus Infection in the Addicted Patient,” will be presented from 4:30 to 6:30 pm in Continental B, on the lobby level of the Chicago Hilton.

“The main focus of the session is medications for hepatitis C infected patients, how do we take care of them, how do we improve their health outcomes by treating them with newer medications, and how do we integrate this treatment?” said session organizer Jag Khalsa, PhD, MS, Chief of the Medical Consequences Branch, National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Help is on the way because the long-time treatments for hepatitis C—pegylated interferon and ribavirin—are now being supplemented by two new protease inhibitors, boceprevir and telaprevir, which have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

“The drug-abusing population that has hepatitis C are able to be treated with newer, safer, less-toxic medications. Pegylated interferon and ribavirin are effective but pretty toxic and have a profile that includes depression and suicidal ideation,” Dr. Khalsa said. “We will be discussing these two newer and safer medications, especially for treating injection drug users. We are in a better situation to treat people with hepatitis C infection than before.”

The efficacy of boceprevir and telaprevir has been proven, he said, but only prolonged use will show if one is better than the other.

“The sustained virologic response is pretty good in both drugs,” Dr. Khalsa said. “They have not been tested extensively in drug-abusing populations, and that is what we want to bring to the attention of addiction experts. We want to tell them that if they come across patients with hepatitis C infection, send them for referral and let the infectious disease people, who are experts, take care of them. That is the purpose of this session.”

The referral to a specialist is just one of the barriers preventing these patients from receiving treatment. A better model may be the integrated care offered in Canada and Europe, which allows patients to receive treatment for addiction and hepatitis C at the same time. Speakers in the session who will address these issues are Jeffrey Samet, MD, MA, MPH, Professor of Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine; Alain Litwin, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Lynn Taylor, MD, AAHIVS, Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases, Brown University; and Judith Tsui, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine.