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Barriers and facilitators of hepatitis C screening among people who inject drugs: a multi-city, mixed-methods study

Joshua A Barocas1*, Meghan B Brennan123, Shawnika J Hull4, Scott Stokes5, John J Fangman56 and Ryan P Westergaard17

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medicine, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, 1685 Highland Ave, UWMFCB 5th floor, Madison, WI 53705, USA

2 Center for Women’s Health Research, University of Wisconsin - Madison, 700 Regent Street, Suite 301, Madison, WI 53715, USA

3 William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital, 2500 Overlook Terrace, Madison, WI 53705, USA

4 School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin - Madison, 821 University Ave, 5115 Vilas Hall, Madison, WI 53706, USA

5 AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, 3716 W. Wisconsin Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53208, USA

6 Department of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, 9200 W Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53226, USA

7 Department of Population Health Sciences, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, 707 WARF Building, 610 North Walnut St, Madison, WI 53726, USA

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Harm Reduction Journal 2014, 11:1  doi:10.1186/1477-7517-11-1

Published: 14 January 2014



People who inject drugs (PWID) are at high risk of contracting and transmitting and hepatitis C virus (HCV). While accurate screening tests and effective treatment are increasingly available, prior research indicates that many PWID are unaware of their HCV status.


We examined characteristics associated with HCV screening among 553 PWID utilizing a free, multi-site syringe exchange program (SEP) in 7 cities throughout Wisconsin. All participants completed an 88-item, computerized survey assessing past experiences with HCV testing, HCV transmission risk behaviors, and drug use patterns. A subset of 362 clients responded to a series of open-ended questions eliciting their perceptions of barriers and facilitators to screening for HCV. Transcripts of these responses were analyzed qualitatively using thematic analysis.


Most respondents (88%) reported receiving a HCV test in the past, and most of these (74%) were tested during the preceding 12 months. Despite the availability of free HCV screening at the SEP, fewer than 20% of respondents had ever received a test at a syringe exchange site. Clients were more likely to receive HCV screening in the past year if they had a primary care provider, higher educational attainment, lived in a large metropolitan area, and a prior history of opioid overdose. Themes identified through qualitative analysis suggested important roles of access to medical care and prevention services, and nonjudgmental providers.


Our results suggest that drug-injecting individuals who reside in non-urban settings, who have poor access to primary care, or who have less education may encounter significant barriers to routine HCV screening. Expanded access to primary health care and prevention services, especially in non-urban areas, could address an unmet need for individuals at high risk for HCV.

Hepatitis C; Screening; Injection drug use; Stigma; Health care access