Even as the health news that grabs us these days is about the H1N1 virus, health workers in Montana are worried about another health crisis – a rise in cases of HIV and an even higher leap in the cases of Hepatitis C.
They attribute the problem to the increasing use of prescription drugs, which can be injected, according to today’s comprehensive Missoulian story on the issue.
The problem is especially high on the state’s Indian reservations. Roosevelt County, home to the Fort Peck Reservation, has 11,000 people and 50 cases of hepatitis C.
Kris FourStar, the communicable disease officer for the Fort Peck Tribal Health Department, recently helped start Montana’s only needle exchange program. Such programs – which supply clean needles and works to intravenous drug users – have been shown to be effective in halting the spread of disease, but the federal government prevents states from using them.
But Fort Peck is sovereign and has its own health code. FourStar is working hard to make it a success. “The networks of users are really tight,” he says. “It’s such a small community here and everyone knows everyone, so people are really wary of getting tested or reaching out for help.”
His sense of urgency is strong. Because there are high rates of alcoholism, hepatitis C is even more likely to affect a person’s health,” he says. “Some people can fight it off, but when you already have liver disease it’s more difficult.”
“It’s tragic,” he says. “The hep C rates on reservations are unbelievable.”