The extensiveness of opioid misuse and the growing public health emergency of opioid addiction in America has had a significant impact on the transmission and prevalence of diseases such as Hepatitis C and HIV. This CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report outlines data showing a startling increase of 364% in acute Hepatitis C infection from 2006-2012 among people age 30 or less in Central Appalachia – Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. This growing public health crisis is tied to Central Appalachia’s epidemic of opioid abuse – most of which is facilitated through people who inject drugs. As injection drug (IDU) is a risk factor for both HCV and HIV infections, this immense increase in the prevalence of acute HCV infection sets off alarm bells for potential increases in HIV infections.
Legal and policy responses to the opioid epidemic have implications for HIV criminal law reform work. As the opioid crisis continues to intensify, we will likely see states following the Trump Administration’s lead in the pursuit of criminal imprisonment “solutions” to the public health crises of opioid addition and increase in viral hepatitis. This has and will likely continue to entail legislative proposals from states with conservative legislatures targeting HCV in a similar, parallel way to how HIV is targeted by criminal law. Our HIV criminal law reform efforts must include dedicated effort and outreach to communities of people living with HCV and harm reduction actors.