New Mexico Corrections Department To Offer Hepatitis C Treatment to Prison Inmates
New Mexico Corrections Department officials have announced that for the first time it will begin offering treatment to some of the 33% of the state's 6,200 prison inmates who have hepatitis C, the AP/Santa Fe New Mexican reports. Dr. Frank Pullara, a University of New Mexico School of Medicine liver disease expert and the Corrections Department medical director, said that a small group of inmates -- including four next week -- will begin receiving a treatment regimen involving both oral and intravenous medications. Inmates with hepatitis C, which can cause liver damage, will have their blood tested periodically to check for liver deterioration, and inmates found to have deteriorating liver function will be referred to a treatment-review committee that will decide if treatment is necessary, the AP/New Mexican reports. Treatment costs range from $15,000 to $30,000 and can have severe side effects, the AP/New Mexican reports. But Pullara said that the treatment expense is "only a fraction" of the $500,000 the state would have to pay for liver transplants that some inmates may need if hepatitis C is not treated, according to the AP/New Mexican. Pullara added that there is "no way to tell at the start of the disease" if a patient will be among the 20% to 25% who develop serious liver complications. Inmates have the option of declining the treatment, which can cause "horrendous" side-effects including nausea, vomiting and severe depression, according to Pullara. "If I had 100 people sitting in this room who have hepatitis C, I could only probably convince 10 to take the treatment," Pullara said, adding, "This is a fairly brutal treatment" (AP/Santa Fe New Mexican, 10/22).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.