Objectives: There is some reluctance to treat intravenous drug users (IVDUs) with chronic hepatitis C (CHC) because of presumed lower compliance and response to antiviral therapy. We intended to evaluate the compliance and response to antiviral treatment for CHC in IVDUs compared with non-IVDUs.
Methods: A retrospective cohort study - secondary analysis of the results of a treatment trial - was performed in Belgium and The Netherlands. A total of 406 previously untreated CHC patients, including 98 (24%) IVDUs, were studied for compliance (presentation at the end of treatment), complete response (alanine aminotransferase within normal limits and serum hepatitis C virus polymerase chain reaction negative) at the end of therapy and sustained virological response (SVR).
Results: Non-compliance (8.2%) in IVDUs was not different from non-IVDUs (6.8%) (relative risk=1.20; 95% confidence interval=0.55-2.62). Complete response after controlling for hepatitis C virus was similar (relative risk=1.19; 95% confidence interval=0.89-1.60). Controlling for treatment arm, age, sex, presence of cirrhosis or hepatitis C virus viral load before treatment did not change these results. There was a marginally significant difference in the sustained virological response between IVDUs (46.6%) and non-IVDUs (34.6%) (relative risk=1.35; 95% confidence interval=1.00-1.81), also disappearing after adjusting for genotype. No difference in compliance or sustained virological response was found between active and non-active IVDUs or between IVDU patients in or without a methadone maintenance program.
Conclusions: In this group of Benelux patients, IVDUs showed similar compliance and response to treatment with interferon and ribavirin compared with other patients with CHC infection. Therefore, it is no longer justifiable to withhold treatment to chronic hepatitis C patients who use intravenous drugs.