What is HepConnect?
HepConnect is a five-year, multi-million-dollar initiative aimed at addressing the increase in hepatitis C (HCV) infections funded by Gilead Sciences. In partnership with local organizations, the HepConnect Initiative will develop and implement evidence-based solutions to meet the needs of people most affected by the opioid crisis. National Harm Reduction Coalition leads the Harm Reduction and Community Education project, which focuses on the prevention of hepatitis C through direct prevention services and community education initiatives, including syringe access. The other two projects are Screening and Linkage to Care and Strengthening Healthcare Infrastructure. The project focuses on five key states impacted by drug use and hepatitis C: Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
The United States is experiencing rising rates of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections; in greater Appalachia, the increase in injection drug use has led to a more than three-fold rise in HCV infection rates. CDC: 2016 Hepatitis Surveillance Report
Harm reduction services in this region vary widely by state and even county — the HepConnect Initiative lifts up what has already been started and doubles down with funding and added capacity from National Harm Reduction Coalition to improve and expand existing syringe service programs (SSPs) and create fertile ground with supporting communities for new programs.
Improving access to harm reduction programs also increases access to overdose prevention resources, including naloxone — several of the states rank highest in the nation for overdose mortality, so while this initiative focuses on hepatitis C, building harm reduction doubles as overdose prevention resources.