In 2012 I checked into a small rehab facility in Broward County.
I remember experiencing a wide range of feelings, but I also knew that something was off. On top of the typical acute withdrawal from opioids, I felt sick; I was vomiting, having diarrhea, abdominal pains and lethargy. A few days after a routine blood test they made a discovery that is all too common in the recovery community; I had Hepatitis C.
They offered me a box of tissues and at the time I pushed them away and laughed the whole thing off, even though I was dying on the inside. I had so many difficult questions bouncing around in my head; am I going to die? How did it get like this? I grew up in a nice neighborhood and came from a good family. How did I get to the point where I allowed myself to contract a disease as a result of sharing dirty needles?
A really great counselor named Allan pulled me aside and spoke with me about the situation. He told me that he had it as well, in addition to another virus that addicts often get. He also described what it was like to have the disease and what my next step should be. Without Allan’s support I don’t know if I’d be writing this right now. This is why it’s so important to have good quality role models and support throughout the recovery process.
What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a virus that primarily affects the liver. During the initial stages of Hepatitis C, most people experience mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. If it isn’t treated, this disease can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure, liver cancer and liver disease. Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact, most commonly through sharing needles used for intravenous drug use.
Education and Prevention is Key
Drug addiction and intravenous drug use is simply never going to stop it’s an unfortunate reality. As long as there is intravenous drug use, Hepatitis C will exist and will be spread. The point here is that we can allocate the necessary resources to reduce and prevent harm associated with intravenous drug use.
We can work together to ensure that high-risk populations are targeted, educated and assessed. Addicts need to be informed about the risks involved with IV drug use and how to reduce them. Needle exchange programs need to be funded to provide clean needles and other equipment to IV drug users so that they have no incentive to share needles with other addicts.
Treatment and Lifestyle Changes
Hepatitis C is treated by administering antiviral medications to infected patients. Actually receiving some of these medications can be a costly, complicated and time-consuming process. As of now there is a medication on the market that is essentially a cure. Harvoni, the drug I took has about a 95% cure rate, but it is enormously expensive; at the time I received the drug it had a price tag of $1,000 per pill!
Clearly this is not a reasonable cost for the average American. The doctor I saw for treatment informed me about the manufacturers assistance program, where you’re added to a list of other patients, and you wait to see if your current financial system qualifies you for assistance. After about nine months of waiting I finally received my Harvoni.
I took one pill per day for eight weeks, had little to no side effects and afterwards my blood was tested periodically for six months to make sure my viral load had decreased sufficiently to determine that I had been cured. I was actually lucky not to have health insurance at the time, because I may have ended up having to take a different drug with a considerably lower success rate. Sometimes your insurance company will see that you’re not experiencing any severe symptoms and refuse to pay for a drug like Harvoni. This is why I say the process is long and complicated. It is extremely important to jump on any opportunity to treat this disease as quickly as possible.
Another important aspect of treating this disease is lifestyle change. Obviously the best thing you can do for yourself after being diagnosed with Hepatitis C is to check yourself into an inpatient program to begin the recovery process from addiction.
If you continue to use and share needles for IV drug use, your situation will only progressively get worse. It’s also important that you get tested for Hepatitis C at least once every six months from the last time you used needles for the first year of recovery to make sure that you do not have it. If you get tested and diagnosed with Hepatitis C, it’s important that you do not panic. Find a good doctor in your area and come up with a good plan. Your doctor will be able to determine the best course of action. In the meantime focus on your recovery and maintain good lifestyle habits; exercise, eat healthy, get plenty of rest and make sure you stay clean!
When I was first diagnosed with Hepatitis my life was a complete blur. I had no idea what I was going to do; I was a drug addict trying to kick heroin, I had no health insurance and I didn’t know how I would get out of this rut. Through the recovery process I found a good doctor that helped me get a medication that I otherwise would have never gotten. I have now been cured from Hepatitis C for over two years now, as well as over two years clean. Recovery brings many blessings and great results. If you’re in recovery and haven’t been tested, go get tested! If you’re thinking about getting clean and sober, don’t think for another second, do it! Your fellow recovering addicts and qualified counselors at an accredited facility will walk you through this difficult process, and help you get your life back.