Action Alert: A Coalition of Patients, Advocates, Medical Providers, and Community Groups Call for Equal Access to Curative Treatments for all People Living with Hepatitis C

Organization to Achieve Solutions in Substance-Abuse
520 27th St.
Oakland, CA  94612

December 17, 2014                                                                             FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
                                                                                                                   Contact: Andrew Reynolds

A Coalition of Patients, Advocates, Medical Providers, and Community Groups Call for Equal Access to Curative Treatments for all People Living with Hepatitis C

Oakland, CA—O.A.S.I.S Clinic, the San Francisco Hepatitis C Task Force, the San Francisco Drug Users Union, and Project Inform call for equal access to curative hepatitis C treatments for all people living with the virus, particularly people who inject drugs, and ask government officials, public payers, private insurers, and pharmaceutical companies to work together to make HCV treatment affordable and accessible for all.

On Thursday, December 18, 2014 the California Technology Assessment Forum (CTAF) will hold a meeting to discuss the “comparative clinical effectiveness and value of new interferon-free combinations of direct-acting antiviral (DAA) drugs for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C.” This meeting updates their previous report, published on April 15, 2014, in which CTAF determined that the DAAs available at the time—sofosbuvir and simeprevir—were of “low value”, not cost effective, and questioned the integrity of the expert panel of clinicians who develop HCV treatment guidance on behalf of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and the Infectious Diseases Society of America, in collaboration with the International Antiviral Society–USA . This determination of low value was highly criticized by medical experts, health economists, advocates, and patients. Nevertheless the report was widely circulated and cited in media and by policy makers, resulting in numerous public and private payers instituting unconscionable restrictions on access to life-saving treatments for countless people with hepatitis C.  As Robin Roth, Co-Chair of the San Francisco Hepatitis C Task Force states: “To limit treatment based on the findings of this report was outrageous.  Everyone deserves to be cured.  To deny an FDA-approved medication to people who need it is immoral, and it is not cost-effective in the long run.”

Hepatitis C is the most common blood-borne disease in the United States, and is the leading cause of chronic liver disease, liver failure, hepatocellular carcinoma, and liver transplants. Newer hepatitis C treatments are easier to take, have fewer side effects, and have higher cure rates (90-100%) compared to previous treatments. There is ample research that shows that hepatitis C treatment is not only cost-effective, but improves the quality of life and health outcomes of people who have been cured. Additionally, research has shown that treating and curing people who use drugs for hepatitis C will lead to rapid and substantial reductions in HCV transmissions, a practice referred to as “cure as prevention,” as the majority of incident infections in the United States are related to the sharing of injection equipment.

The burden of hepatitis C falls disproportionately on people with a history of injection drug use.  Andrew Reynolds, Hepatitis C Education Manager for Project Inform and member of the Board of Directors for the San Francisco Drug Users Union states: “People who inject drugs make up the core of the hepatitis C epidemic, and they are routinely stigmatized and excluded from medical care. We see this across the country as various Medicaid programs have established arbitrary policies requiring people to be abstinent from alcohol and drugs for various lengths of time before being considered for treatment. This decision is not evidence-based, flies in the face of recommendations from a number of professional medical societies, and does not reflect the successes of clinics like O.A.S.I.S in treating people who may be using substances. By excluding people who inject drugs from this report, CTAF is reinforcing the stigma and perpetuating their exclusion from hepatitis C care and treatment.”

As the CTAF panel meets to discuss the clinical effectiveness and value of new HCV DAAs, they must include considerations for treating people who use drugs. Any report or resulting recommendations that fail to do so are fundamentally flawed, and will have limited relevance or impact on eliminating hepatitis C. Additionally, hepatitis C clinical experts, addiction disease specialists, and people living with hepatitis C should be consulted and their input included in the final analysis.

“We are the face of ‘The Silent Epidemic’ known as hepatitis C,” says Orlando Chavez, Senior Peer Educator at O.A.S.I.S Clinic. “No matter what you may believe about us, no matter what the experts say when they rationalize our exclusion, curing us is the only hope for eliminating this disease and ending both the human costs and financial havoc that results from denying treatment. Only those that are out for short-term financial gain at the expense of both society and our lives would claim otherwise. Such a strategy will ensure hepatitis C will be around for the next century and beyond. The issue of drug use is a red herring. Don’t be fooled by it. Insurance companies don’t want to pay for the treatment and drug companies want to maximize profit by charging high prices.  Not only does it make economic sense to treat drug users, it is the right thing to do and will pay big dividends for all. All lives have value.”

For more information and interviews, contact:

Orlando Chavez
Senior Peer Educator, O.A.S.I.S Clinic

Shirley Barger
Co-Chair, San Francisco Hepatitis C Task Force

Robin Roth
Co-Chair, San Francisco Hepatitis C Task Force

Holly Bradford
Executive Director, San Francisco Drug Users Union

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