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HepConnect intends to bolster harm reduction efforts in West Virginia and Appalachia

By BISHOP NASH

The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON, W.Va.  — A new network to support local health efforts to curtail the spread of hepatitis C, which has tripled in Appalachia alongside widespread intravenous drug use, has been established in West Virginia, fueled by an initial $11.3 million corporate grant by California-based Gilead Sciences.

Known as HepConnect, the five-year, multimillion-dollar project will be used to bolster existing harm reduction efforts at public health programs in West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee and North Carolina. The program will be administered by the Harm Reduction Coalition, a national public health advocacy and support organization based in New York City.

Nearly 21,000 West Virginians are living with hepatitis C, and around 120 deaths were related to the disease in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has called the rise of the bloodborne virus an epidemic. The disease has spread dramatically in the wake of Appalachia’s crushing opioid epidemic – chiefly through the sharing of used syringes to inject drugs and a new wave of homelessness.

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