India Perez-Urbano, Harvard College ‘16

Abstract

The War on Drugs, declared by President Nixon over forty years ago, has framed drug use as a criminal, rather than a public health, concern. The mass incarceration that has resulted has marginalized people who inject drugs and ethnic/racial minorities, both of which are the faces of today’s hepatitis C epidemic. Hepatitis C is a chronic, infectious disease that can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, and death, killing more Americans each year than HIV. Mass incarceration has placed the health of those suffering from addiction in the hands of the criminal justice system where hepatitis C screening and evidence-based hepatitis C and addiction care is neglected. The War on Drugs has prioritized stricter law enforcement, surveillance and border control over constructive public health interventions that promote substance abuse/addiction treatment, prevention and education. People who inject drugs have become stigmatized, leading to a mutual mistrust between hepatitis C patients and health care providers; thus, limiting access to evidence-based care and support for these patients. Advocacy and mobilization for both addiction and chronic hepatitis C is urgently needed in order to make drastic changes to the American criminal justice and health care system.

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