(HealthDay News) — For young adult injection drug users, maintenance opioid agonist therapy is associated with lower incidence of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, according to a study published online October 27 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Judith I. Tsui, MD, MPH, from the Boston University School of Medicine, and colleagues conducted an observational cohort study including quarterly interviews and blood samples. They examined whether opioid agonist therapy correlated with lower incidence of HCV infection among 552 young adult (<30 years) injection drug users.

During the observation period of 680 person-years, the researchers identified 171 incident cases of HCV infection (incidence rate, 25.1 per 100 person-years). Participants who reported recent maintenance opioid agonist therapy had a significantly lower rate ratio (0.31; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.14–0.65; P=0.001). This was not seen for those who reported recent non-opioid agonist forms of treatment (0.63; 95% CI, 0.37–1.08; P=0.09) or opioid agonist detoxification (1.45; 95% CI, 0.80–2.69; P=0.23). Maintenance opioid agonist therapy correlated with lower relative hazards for acquiring HCV infection over time, after adjustment for other covariates (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.39; P=0.02).

“Maintenance treatment with methadone or buprenorphine for opioid use disorders may be an important strategy to prevent the spread of HCV infection among young injection drug users,” the authors write.

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