Costly Hepatitis C Drugs Threaten To Bust Prison Budgets

Every week, Dr. Michael Poshkus visits the John J. Moran Medium Security prison in Cranston, R.I., to see patients infected with hepatitis C.

Until recently, their only treatment option was a weekly injection in the stomach for at least a year. It worked less than half the time and caused debilitating side effects. But everything has changed.

Drug maker AbbVie won FDA approval Monday for a new hepatitis C treatment that combines several drugs and can cure the disease in a matter of weeks or a few months. The news caps a year of medical milestones for the estimated 3.2 million Americans (including 12 to 35 percent of prisoners) who are chronically infected with this viral liver disease. Yet most of the hepatitis C drugs to hit the market this year cost tens of thousands of dollars. That puts them out of reach for many inmates and threatens to break prison health care budgets.

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