Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada; St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto, ON, Canada.
While the majority of cases of hepatitis C virus (HCV) in developed countries occur among illicit drug users, HCV antiviral treatment uptake is poor in this population. Several studies have shown that patients can successfully be treated for HCV in the context of methadone maintenance programmes, but little evidence exists evaluating HCV treatment models for substance users where methadone maintenance is not indicated. This retrospective cohort study involved 129 persons participating in psycho-educational support groups and integrated, interprofessional, community-based health services focused on the treatment for HCV among marginalized populations with high rates of crack cocaine use and mental health comorbidities. We sought to identify the factors associated with antiviral treatment uptake. Group participation improved access to health care. While 19% had previously seen an HCV specialist prior to group initiation, 59% saw an HCV specialist during the group. Half of the participants were nonimmune to hepatitis A or B at baseline, and 80% of these patients received immunization through the programme. The programme treated 24 patients with pegylated interferon and ribavirin and achieved a sustained virologic response (SVR) rate of 91% for genotype 2 or 3 and 54% for genotype 1. Stable housing was independently associated with initiation of treatment, and there was a nonsignificant trend towards lower rates of treatment initiation among women. SVR rates for those who had used crack or injection drugs in the month prior to joining the programme did not differ significantly from those who had abstained.