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Study Finds Low Hepatitis C Rates in Methadone Maintenance Participants

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Researchers at an Israeli clinic offering methadone maintenance treatment have found that the treatment for opiate addiction appears to protect individuals against subsequent hepatitis C infection, Medscape Psychiatry reported April 19.

Presenting their findings at this month’s American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) Medical-Scientific Conference, Einat Peles, Ph.D., and colleagues reported that in a group of 207 hepatitis C-negative patients treated at their Tel Aviv clinic between 1993 and 2008, only 25 became hepatitis C-positive. This is seen as a critical finding in that hepatitis C rates among injection drug users have been estimated at 60 to 90 percent.

“This is a very important study because it shows that not only does treatment work for the addiction itself but is a preventive measure for hepatitis C,” commented Gavin Bart, M.D., chair of this year’s ASAM meeting and director of the Division of Addiction Medicine at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minnesota.

The researchers identified the strongest factors predicting hepatitis C seroconversion in the methadone maintenance population as injection drug use history, benzodiazepine use at admission to treatment, and re-admission to the methadone maintenance program.

The study also found greater hepatitis C risk among women and among individuals under 30, though the researchers added that having children appeared to protect against seroconversion. The dose of methadone received did not constitute a risk factor for the illness, according to the research. 

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