The growing epidemic of opioid use disorder (OUD) and associated injection drug use has resulted in a surge of new hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections. Approximately half of the people with HCV infection are unaware of their HCV status. Improving HCV awareness and increasing screening among people with OUD are critical. Addiction-Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System (A-CHESS) is an evidence-based, smartphone-delivered relapse prevention system that has been implemented among people with OUD who are receiving medications for addiction treatment (MAT) to improve long-term recovery.
We incorporated HCV-related content and functionality into A-CHESS to characterize the HCV care continuum among people in early remission and receiving MAT for OUD and to determine whether incorporating such content and functionality into A-CHESS increases HCV testing.
HCV intervention content, including dissemination of educational information, private messages tailored to individuals’ stage of HCV care, and a public discussion forum, was implemented into the A-CHESS platform. Between April 2016 and April 2020, 416 participants with OUD were enrolled in this study. Participants were randomly assigned to receive MAT alone (control arm) or MAT+A-CHESS (experimental arm). Quarterly telephone interviews were conducted from baseline to month 24 to assess risk behaviors and HCV testing history. Cox proportional hazards regression was used to assess whether participants who used A-CHESS were tested for HCV (either antibody [Ab] or RNA testing) at a higher rate than those in the control arm. To assess the effect of A-CHESS on subsets of participants at the highest risk for HCV, additional analyses were performed to examine the effect of the intervention among participants who injected drugs and shared injection equipment.
Overall, 44.2% (184/416) of the study participants were HCV Ab positive, 30.3% (126/416) were HCV Ab negative, and 25.5% (106/416) were considered untested at baseline. At month 24, there was no overall difference in HCV testing uptake between the intervention and control participants. However, among the subset of 109 participants who engaged in injection drug use, there was a slight trend toward increased HCV testing uptake among those who used A-CHESS (89% vs 85%; hazard ratio: 1.34; 95% CI 0.87-2.05; P=.18), and a stronger trend was observed when focusing on the subset of 32 participants who reported sharing injection equipment (87% vs 56%; hazard ratio: 2.92; 95% CI 0.959-8.86; P=.06).
Incorporating HCV prevention and care information into A-CHESS may increase the uptake of HCV testing while preventing opioid relapse when implemented among populations who engage in high-risk behaviors such as sharing contaminated injection equipment. However, more studies that are powered to detect differences in HCV testing among high-risk groups are needed.