To the Editor:
The United States should swiftly adopt the Oregon model for decriminalization of personal-use drug possession to address the opioid use crisis, and the associated viral hepatitis epidemic.
Hepatitis C, which affects an estimated 2.4 million Americans, is largely tied to the opioid use epidemic. Injection drug use is now the main risk factor for new hepatitis C virus (H.C.V.) infections, and an estimated 80 percent of new H.C.V. infections occur among people who inject drugs. Rather than stigmatizing this population with criminal penalties and limited treatment access, the United States must provide easy access to lifesaving medications.
Data from Portugal have shown that its decriminalization model, which Oregon’s is based on, has not only shown declines in overdose deaths and addiction rates, but also significant drops in hepatitis B and C infections.
With policies that destigmatize drug use disorder and provide treatment to vulnerable populations, we can also root out related public health issues, including hepatitis C.
The writer is the director of policy for the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable.