LA County changes policy, will provide hepatitis C treatment to IV drug users

The Los Angeles Department of Health Services will start approving hepatitis C drugs for active IV drug users, the department’s chief medical officer has told KPCC. Until now, the department had withheld approval for anyone who had not been drug-free for at least six months.

The policy change comes after KPCC reported in August that L.A. County’s guidelines regarding IV drug users were more restrictive than those of the state’s Medi-Cal program.

Most people become infected with hepatitis C by sharing needles or other IV drug equipment. Acknowledging this, Medi-Cal expanded its treatment guidelines last year to include active IV drug among those considered eligible for hepatitis C drugs. Medi-Cal covers the cost of drugs for this population.

This summer, Dr. Hal Yee, the Department of Health Services’ chief medical officer, defended the county’s decision to not provide hepatitis C treatment to IV drug users.

“We believe it is likely that patients who are not using drugs are more likely to complete the treatment than people who are actively using illicit drugs,” Yee said at the time. He said very few IV drug users had requested hepatitis C treatment.

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