Hepatitis C is one of the top public health challenges facing the U.S., with as many as three to four million people currently living with this “chronic infection,” notes Pavel Lavitas, PharmD, BCPS, of UMass Medical School.
New cases of Hepatitis C nearly tripled between 2010 and 2015, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making it the “most common bloodborne infections in the U.S.,” says Lavitas, a clinical consultant pharmacist in Clinical Pharmacy Services.
Hepatitis C is also associated with cirrhosis and liver cancer and is a leading cause of liver transplantation, Lavitas notes. Hepatitis C, whose spread has accelerated amid the opioid epidemic and the increased sharing of needles, accounted for 19,000 deaths in 2013, “more than 60 other nationally notifiable infectious diseases combined,” the CDC notes.
“It is associated with significant morbidity,” says Lavitas, a frequent presenter on hepatitis C medication management strategies at pharmacy conferences. “It is a significant public health priority to cure the infection.”
However, the high cost of a new series of highly effective drugs, developed to eradicate Hepatitis C, has complicated efforts to combat the infection, notes Lavitas.
Several “novel therapies” have been rolled out over the last few years boasting high cure rates and high tolerance among patients, he says.
However, it can cost tens of thousands of dollars – or more - for a single patient to go through a four-month course of treatment.
“The health care system has really been challenged by the high cost of the medications,” Lavitas says.
Lavitas oversees the Hepatitis C medication management program for MassHealth, the Massachusetts Medicaid program. Through its management, UMass Medical School saved MassHealth more than $3.7 million in just over one year.