Hepatitis C treatment is cost-effective for the US prison population

October 20, 2008

Treating all U.S. prisoners who have hepatitis C with the standard therapy of pegylated-interferon and ribavirin would be cost-effective, says a new study in the November issue of Hepatology, a journal published by John Wiley & Sons on behalf of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD).

U.S. prisons incarcerate more than 2 million inmates each year, and between 12 and 31 percent of them are infected with chronic hepatitis C (HCV), mostly related to high rates of intravenous drug use. The current standard treatment for HCV has been shown to be cost-effective in the general population and the Federal Bureau of Prisons recommends HCV treatment for those who meet the AASLD's criteria for treatment, as long as therapy is likely to be completed. However, each state adopts its own set of treatment guidelines, and many prisoners do not ultimately get treated.

Proponents for treatment argue that we have an ethical duty to provide prisoners with the best medical practices available, and treating HCV could reduce new infections as well as future medical expenses from advanced liver disease. Opponents point out that treatment is expensive and must be paid for by taxpayers, while many non-imprisoned HCV patients who don't have health insurance are denied access to this care.

Researchers, led by Sammy Saab of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, sought to determine if HCV treatment would be cost-effective in the male prison population (men make up over 87 percent of U.S. prisoners). They examined published literature for relevant studies and constructed a decision analysis model employing Markov simulation, using the generally accepted cost-effectiveness threshold of $50,000 per quality-adjusted life years.

"Our model found that treatment was cost-saving for prisoners of all age ranges and genotypes when liver biopsy was not a prerequisite to starting antiviral therapy," they report. "In other words, treatment resulted in both decreased costs and improved quality of life." Treatment was also cost-saving in most situations that included a pre-treatment liver biopsy.

The authors had not expected treatment to be cost-effective, because of the high re-infection rates and non-liver mortality rates in the prison population. However, they write, "our results demonstrate that pegylated-interferon and ribavirin is cost-saving in the prison population, both in strategies with and without biopsy. Incorporating a pre-treatment liver biopsy may be the most cost-effective approach, however, as one could potentially exclude certain patients with no fibrosis from therapy."

"If the decision to treat is based on pharmacoeconomic measures," the authors conclude, "the results of our analysis suggest that treatment is cost-saving and should not be withheld in U.S. prisoners with hepatitis C."

Since the efficacy of treatment would be diminished by relapse to injection drug use and re-infection, treatment should be coupled with educational and substance abuse programs, they suggest. And because mental illness is widespread in the prison population, and can often be exacerbated by treatment, careful mental health screening and follow-up would be required.

Source: Wiley

Explore further: Treating hepatitis C infection in prison is good public policy

Related Stories

Treating hepatitis C infection in prison is good public policy

September 27, 2012

Incarcerated patients with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection are just as likely to respond to treatment for the disease as patients in the community, according to findings published in the October issue of Hepatology, ...

Study tallies huge cost of hepatitis C drugs for RI prisons

April 9, 2015

A new study finds that effective new hepatitis C drugs are so expensive the state of Rhode Island would have to spend almost twice its entire prison health budget to treat all its chronically infected inmates. Even providing ...

To curb hepatitis C, test and treat inmates

May 14, 2014

Problematic as it is for society, the high incarceration rate in the United States presents an important public health opportunity, according to a new "Perspective" article in the New England Journal of Medicine. It could ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Cow embryos reveal new type of chromosome chimera

May 27, 2016

I've often wondered what happens between the time an egg is fertilized and the time the ball of cells that it becomes nestles into the uterine lining. It's a period that we know very little about, a black box of developmental ...

Shaving time to test antidotes for nerve agents

February 29, 2016

Imagine you wanted to know how much energy it took to bike up a mountain, but couldn't finish the ride to the peak yourself. So, to get the total energy required, you and a team of friends strap energy meters to your bikes ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.