Saturday, July 13, 2019

900 participants in study aimed at eliminating hepatitis C in Perry County will get their meds through a device that tracks adherence

Participants in a University of Kentucky study aimed at eliminating the liver disease hepatitis C in one county will get their medicine in a device that tracks how closely they follow their prescriptions.

The Kentucky Viral Hepatitis Treatment Study is examining the concept of "treatment as prevention" by treating everyone in Perry County who is chronically infected with hepatitis C, which is common among those who inject drugs. The participants were identified through previous work in the county dealing with drug addiction.

Perry County (Wikipedia map)
Hepatitis C is a caused by a virus that is primarily spread by injection-drug users when they share needles or other equipment. Left untreated, it can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer. 

Intent Solutions, an Atlanta-based company that provides technology to improve prescription-drug safety and adherence to prescriptions, has committed to dispensing the hepatitis C medication to the 900 participants in the study using an automated dispensing device called "Tad,"  short for “take as directed,” that also tracks how closely people take their prescribed medicine.

"By taking the medication as prescribed, the likelihood of being cured is exceedingly high," Jennifer Havens, principal investigator on the study, said in the news release. "Tad provides us with clear visibility into whether individuals are taking their medication properly. If they are not, we can intervene quickly to prevent waste and misuse, and to ensure the study aims are being met."

The study is funded by $15 million from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute on Drug AbuseGilead Sciences has donated the medicine, valued at about $20 million, the release says.

The Tad system was originally developed to reduce the misuse, abuse and diversion of opioids, but the CEO of the company, Sam Zamarripa, said they have since found it is also well-suited to population health intervention programs, like this one.

"Prescription adherence is important in any treatment program, but especially so in the 12-week regimen required to rid the body of hepatitis C virus," Zamarripa said in the release. "Tad will increase the likelihood that these individuals will live.”

The Tad device is an automated dispenser the size of a smartphone that contains up to 30 days' worth of pills; it requires only the touch of a finger on its biometric keypad to dispense the correct daily or periodic dosage.

Perry County was chosen for the study because it has seen such a spike in hepatitis C, largely as a result of the opioid crisis. Havens estimated that at least half of the people in Perry County with the disease are struggling with, or have struggled with, opioids.

The program also includes support for the county's syringe exchange, access to medication-assisted therapy for opioid-use disorder, and help with housing and employment.

Since a drug is now available that cures those infected with hepatitis C, the World Health Organization has set a goal for elimination of the virus as a public-health threat by the year 2030.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that more than 3 million Americans have hepatitis C, and most don't know they have it. For many, infection can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer or death.

More than 12,000 people die every year in the U.S. from illnesses related to hepatitis C, which kills more Americans than any other infectious disease. While a cure now exists for hep-C infection, there is no vaccine to prevent it, as there is for hepatitis A and B.

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