Maximizing Health, Minimizing Harm: The Role of Public Health Programs in Drug User Health

By Mariah Johnson, Manager Viral Hepatitis/Policy & Legislative Affairs, NASTAD

Maximizing Health, Minimizing Harm: Drug User Health ToolkitIn February 2015, reports surfaced of an outbreak of new HIV cases in Scott County, Indiana. The initial 26 cases of HIV, first confirmed in December, were followed by more cases (now nearly 90 cases with the majority involving hepatitis C [HCV] co-infection). The cause was the injection of the prescription painkiller Opana. In an effort to combat the outbreak – the largest in the state’s history – Indiana Governor Mike Pence authorized an emergency 30 day needle exchange program in Scott County, administered by state health officials, which opened earlier this week. This was a major development from a Governor who has not supported this intervention in a state where needle exchange programs have long been outlawed. Yet in the face of an historic HIV (and HCV) outbreak, Governor Pence recognized the need for a public health approach guided by the evidence, just as numerous physicians, health departments, and countless community-based and national organizations have before him. Continue reading

The Public Health Imperative to Integrate Drug User Health into Broader Health Care Systems

By Amy Killelea, Associate Director, Health Systems Integration, NASTAD

Principles of Harm Reduction“We must meet people where they are, and help more people on the path to better health … Together we can work toward the same mutual goals – to reduce the consequences of drug use, to prevent overdose deaths, and to help people live safer and healthier lives.” Michael Botticelli, Acting Director, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) speaking at the 10th National Harm Reduction Conference in Baltimore. Continue reading

Improving Drug User Health through Health Department HIV Prevention Programs

By Erin McElderry, Associate, Prevention, NASTAD

New HIV Infections by Transmission Category, 1980 – 2010*

New HIV Infections by Transmission Category, 1980 – 2010*

In many ways, HIV prevention among people who inject drugs (PWID) has been a success story. Rates of new infections among PWID have declined dramatically since the beginning of the epidemic, due in part to the success of syringe services programs (SSPs) in preventing new HIV infections. However, this work is far from done. In 2010, PWID represented 8% of new HIV infections. The U.S. has also seen rising rates of young people addicted to prescription opioids transitioning to injection drug use.  Continue reading

An Emerging Epidemic: The Public Health Response to Hepatitis C Infection among Young People who Inject Drugs

By Oscar Mairena, Manager, Viral Hepatitis/Policy and Legislative Affairs

Panelists at the NASTAD and Harm Reduction Coalition Congressional Briefing.

Panelists at the NASTAD and Harm Reduction Coalition Congressional Briefing.

Last year, the Viral Hepatitis Prevention Coordinator (VHPC) in Massachusetts, Dan Church, wrote a post about the increasing rate of acute hepatitis C (HCV) infection among young persons who inject drugs in Massachusetts and the health department’s efforts to prevent new infections, identify existing cases, educate individuals vulnerable to acquisition, and enhance surveillance and data collection to better address the epidemic. Since then, more health departments have reported this trend, especially among young persons who begin using prescription opioids and transition to injecting heroin. Earlier this week, NASTAD partnered with the Harm Reduction Coalition to host a Congressional Briefing, An Emerging Epidemic: The Public Health Response to Hepatitis C Infection among Young People who Use Drugs, to bring this issue to light, educate Congressional staff and reinforce the role of public health in addressing emerging health concerns. Continue reading

How Health Departments Are Addressing the Viral Hepatitis Epidemic in the U.S.

By Maria Courogen, Director of the Office of Infectious Disease, Washington State Department of Health

Maria Courogen

Maria Courogen, Washington State AIDS Director, speaking at the launch of the updated Viral Hepatitis Action Plan.

In my role in Washington State, I oversee the state health department’s work in the areas of HIV, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), tuberculosis and viral hepatitis. In my role as a member of NASTAD’s Executive Committee and Chair-Elect, I work with state health department colleagues across the country, many of whom have a similar portfolio of work, to provide leadership in the country’s response to HIV and hepatitis. As such, On April 3, I participated in an event hosted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for the release of the next iteration of the Viral Hepatitis Action Plan.

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