Back HCV Populations People Who Inject Drugs CROI 2017: Hepatitis C Treatment Can Be Provided Successfully at Syringe Exchange Sites

CROI 2017: Hepatitis C Treatment Can Be Provided Successfully at Syringe Exchange Sites


Administering direct-acting antiviral therapy for people who inject drugs at a syringe exchange site led to high sustained response rates in a pilot study in New York City, researchers reported at the recent Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Seattle. Expanding treatment for this population could reduce hepatitis C virus (HCV) transmission and ultimately help eliminate hepatitis C as a public health threat.

The advent of direct-acting antiviral agents (DAAs) used in interferon-regimens has revolutionized treatment for chronic hepatitis C. Most people can now be cured with well-tolerated oral therapy given for 8 to 12 weeks. But the new therapies are not yet reaching everyone who could benefit, especially marginalized populations such as people who inject drugs.

Benjamin Eckhardt from New York University and colleagues evaluated clinical outcomes from a prospective pilot program offering hepatitis C treatment to active injection drug users at a needle and syringe service site.

"The introduction of direct acting antiviral agents for HCV has begun the discussion about potential viral elimination," the researchers noted as background. "To maximize the population impact of DAAs on the HCV epidemic, more people who inject drugs need to be cured of their infection."

A total of 45 people enrolled in the program, of whom 34 applied for HCV medications and 26 started therapy and were included in the analysis. Of the treated participants, more than 90% were men, half were white, about 12% were black, and more than 40% were Latino/Hispanic. The mean age was 46 years and they had been injecting for about 20 years on average. People with HIV coinfection were not included.

Nearly half were homeless and all received health coverage through Medicaid or Medicare. About 60% were on opioid substitution therapy, but they reported ongoing injection drug use with a range of 4 to 150 injections during the past month.

More than half had HCV genotype 1, with about 20% each having genotypes 2 and 3. Most had not been previously treated for hepatitis C. A majority had absent, mild, or moderate liver fibrosis, but 3 had advanced fibrosis (stage F3) and 3 had compensated cirrhosis (stage F4). People with decompensated liver disease were not treated on site and were instead referred to hepatology clinics.

Doctor visits, blood draws for lab tests, and medication distribution all occurred at the syringe exchange site. About 40% used sofosbuvir/ledipasvir (Harvoni), 23% used sofosbuvir (Sovaldi) plus daclatasvir (Daklinza), 19% used sofosbuvir plus ribavirin alone, and the rest used other regimens; altogether all but 1 received sofosbuvir-based therapy.


  • Among the 26 treated patients, 22 (85%) achieved sustained virological response at 12 weeks post-treatment (SVR12).
  • 1 person discontinued treatment due to adverse events and 1 stopped early due to a lapse in insurance; another stopped treatment at 6 weeks due to incarceration but was still cured.
  • 2 people were found to have detectable HCV RNA within 4-6 weeks after completing treatment.
  • Both started with genotype 1a and ended with genotype 3, suggesting either reinfection or emergence of a second pre-existing strain that was unresponsive to the regimens used; both were retreated and achieved SVR12.

"People who inject drugs can be effectively treated for hepatitis C with high rates of sustained virologic response," the researchers concluded. "Co-located treatment of hepatitis C within a harm reduction center (needle exchange facility) is a potential approach to engage people who inject drugs in an accessible and de-stigmatized setting." 

"The rates of re-infection in this population, and the impact of HCV treatment at a needle-syringe program on high risk behavior and community-wide transmission (cure-as-prevention) need further investigation," they added.



B Eckhardt, KM Marks, and B Edlin. HCV Treatment in People Who Inject Drugs Colocated within Needle and Syringe Program. Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. Seattle, February 13-16, 2017. Abstract 554.