Hep B United Applauds Bipartisan Legislation to Combat the Opioid Crisis and Opioid Related Infectious Diseases

WASHINGTON, D.C. (October 24, 2018) – Hep B United today released the following statement, commending Congress for working together to pass the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act. The legislation was signed into law by the president, following overwhelming bipartisan Congressional support. The legislation supports a range of services, programs, and funding, across multiple federal agencies, to help combat the nation’s ongoing opioid epidemic and related infectious diseases, including hepatitis B.

The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act brings together several pieces of legislation focused on different aspects of the opioid epidemic, from promoting evidence-based prevention strategies, to researching new, non-addictive pain management drugs, and expanding access to substance use disorder treatment.

The package includes the Eliminating Opioid Related Infectious Diseases Act of 2018, which authorizes $40 million annually for five years to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to support state and local data collection on infectious diseases that can be spread through injection drug use – such as viral hepatitis, including hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV), HIV, and infective endocarditis – as well as to increase viral hepatitis and HIV testing, prevention, and linkage to care and treatment.

“We commend this legislation for addressing viral hepatitis as one of the long-term public health consequences of the opioid crisis and for authorizing much-needed resources to prevent further spread of hepatitis B and other infectious diseases,” said Chari Cohen, DrPH, MPH, vice president for public health and programs at the Hepatitis B Foundation and co-chair of Hep B United. “Improving hepatitis B testing, vaccination, and linkage to care among high-risk populations, including people who inject drugs, is a critical strategy in the fight to eliminate hepatitis B, and we are glad to see Congress has incorporated these activities in their response to the opioid epidemic.”

In 2015, the number of acute hepatitis B cases nationwide increased by 20.7%, rising for the first time since 2006. In recent years, the largest increases in acute HBV infection have occurred primarily in states heavily impacted by opioid addiction, including Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Maine. Despite the availability of a highly effective vaccine to prevent new cases of hepatitis B, low rates of HBV vaccination coverage among adults – less than 25% overall – and increased rates of injection drug use has left a large segment of the population at high risk for HBV infection. Unlike hepatitis C, there is no cure for hepatitis B. If left undiagnosed and untreated, chronic hepatitis B can lead to serious and costly complications, and it is a leading cause of liver cancer.

“We are pleased that Congress and the administration are taking this important step towards providing relief for families and communities affected by this ongoing public health crisis,” said Jeffrey Caballero, MPH, executive director of the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO) and co-chair of Hep B United. “We look forward to continuing our work together to ensure individuals living with hepatitis B and others impacted by the opioid crisis have access to the care and support they need.”

About Hepatitis B: Hepatitis B is the most common serious liver infection in the world. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus that attacks and injures the liver. Each year up to 1 million people die from hepatitis B worldwide despite the fact that it is preventable and treatable. Hepatitis B is a “silent epidemic” because most people do not have symptoms when they are newly infected or chronically infected. Thus, they can unknowingly spread the virus to others and continue the silent spread of hepatitis B. For people who are chronically infected but don’t have any symptoms, their liver is still being silently damaged which can develop into serious liver disease such as cirrhosis or liver cancer.

About Hep B United: Hep B United is a national coalition co-chaired by the Hepatitis B Foundation and the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations dedicated to reducing the health disparities associated with hepatitis B by increasing awareness, screening, vaccination, and linkage to care for high-risk communities across the United States. To learn more, visit www.hepbunited.org.

About the Hepatitis B Foundation: The Hepatitis B Foundation is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization solely dedicated to finding a cure for hepatitis B and improving the quality of life for those affected worldwide through research, education and patient advocacy. To learn more, visit www.hepb.org, read our blog at hepb.org/blog, follow us on Twitter @HepBFoundation, find us on Facebook at facebook.com/hepbfoundation or call 215-489-4900.

About the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations: The Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO) is a national association of community health organizations dedicated to promoting advocacy, collaboration, and leadership that improves the health status and access of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders in the United States. To learn more, visit www.aapcho.org.

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