Former drug user who lived with hepatitis C for 20 years welcomes treatment breakthrough

A former drug user who lived with hepatitis C for 20 years has welcomed a ‘game-changing’ blueprint for community-based treatment.

Recommendations include a nurse-led community service for hepatitis C testing and treatment, recruiting peer workers who know the local drug culture and creating close ties between existing community services for people who inject drugs.

The blueprint was welcomed by the Scottish Government, which aims to eliminate hepatitis C in Scotland by 2024.

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The NHS estimates around half of people who inject drugs have the condition.

Scott MacBlack.

The new recommendations are the fruit of a three-year trial led by Glasgow Caledonian and Bristol universities, in collaboration with NHS Tayside and the Scottish Drugs Forum (SDF).

Scott MacBlack, a 42-year-old father and former drug user who lived with hepatitis C for 20 years, welcomed the report.

“Stuff like this should be happening,” he said.

"It’s getting to the people with hep C and dealing with it directly. It takes away the barriers for people who are using drugs and actually treating them in a way that’s accessible.

"With regards to peer workers, I don’t think there’s anyone better who could be doing this.

"They can relate and that gives that extra level of support so working hand in hand with professionals, there’s no better way to do this.”

Mr MacBlack, from Ayrshire, starting taking drugs from an early age, moving from cannabis and pills to heroin.

“I wasn’t educated on this kind of stuff and before long I started injecting,” he said.

“It went on for years and I ended up in and out of prison. In my second or third time in prison I was tested for hepatitis C and it came back positive.

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“I was given interferon to begin with, but the side effects made me really unwell. It was horrible and it didn’t cure me. No-one really knew what to do about it, so I lived with hep C for another 20 years.”

Mr MacBlack spoke of the “stigma” he felt after diagnosis. He was eventually cured while in prison, after taking direct-acting antivirals for 12 weeks.

“It was only after getting rid of it that I realised how big a weight had been lifted off my shoulders with this, both physically and mentally,” he said.

Lead Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) researchers behind the blueprint, Professor Lawrie Elliott, Dr Gabriele Vojt and Professor Paul Flowers, now at Strathclyde University, described the research as a “game changer in the design of hepatitis C treatment programmes for those who inject drugs in Scotland and beyond”.

Prof Elliott said: “We know from previous research led by GCU that the treatment works, but we have struggled to get this out to those who need it.

"These recommendations are a major breakthrough in getting treatment out to communities and will have a huge impact on virus elimination.”

David Liddell, chief executive of the Scottish Drugs Forum, welcomed the findings.

“This type of assertive, responsive and inclusive approach to hepatitis C testing and treatment will go a long way to helping Scotland meet its 2024 elimination target,” he said.

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