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Kicking Hep C and drug addiction through telemedicine

Mike Desmond
UB Professor of Medicine Andrew Talal in one of his telemedicine sessions.

A high percentage of people in methadone treatment programs for drug addiction also have Hepatitis C. Now there is a research project based at the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences to help drug addicts who also have Hep C.

Even if patients kick their underlying drug habit and shift to methadone, they still have the underlying Hep C. Today, however, there are pills that can actually cure the disease. That is a big forward step, since Hep C can lead to oftenlethal liver cancer.

Working with methadone clinics, UB Professor of Medicine Andrew Talal said he is now on a computer screen talking to patients, telling them he can cure the Hep C in their fight against addiction.

"Even though I'm physically located maybe 500 miles away. I was seeing patients in Brooklyn this morning. They have the impression that I'm working with them," he said. "We have a nurse practitioner in the room, we have a case manager in the room who's working with them on site. So we try to create the same environment that we would create in a university clinic."

For those interviews, Talal wears his monogrammed medical white coat and has a backdrop announcing the telemedicine session is part of UB and the medical school. He said the sessions are the result of asking questions six years ago.
"We asked the question, 'Could we link the Hep C treatment and the methadone together, especially as we saw that the direct acting antivirals, the new drugs we talked about, were coming on board'?" said Talal. "So could we have the medical evaluations be done there and also distribute the medication within the same site?"

Under state rules for methadone treatment, patients have to be tested for Hep C, so Talal knows that status from the beginning of treatment. What has changed since that questioning six years ago is a small pill.

If the patient takes that pill for up to three months, it can cure the hepatitis and extend good health. So the patient is clean from other drugs and no longer suffering the debilitating effects of an addiction and can start to rebuild a life.

"Once you're cured of Hep C, many patients feel then a renewed sense of energy, vigor, to go and address the substance abuse issues," said Talal, "and as a result of getting ready for treatment for Hep C, we interact with many patients who then need to get their substance abuse issues under control."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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