Prisoners receiving expensive drug for hepatitis C

By Ryne Turke on April 24 at 1:15pm

Prison inmates across West Central Illinois are being treated for hepatitis C, but it’s coming at a costly price.

Our reporting partners at WICS ABC Newschannel 20 say approximately 100 to 150 inmates in each of Illinois’ 25 prisons have hepatitis C. The life-threatening infection, most commonly linked to needles used for injecting drugs, is being treated with the drug Sovaldi.

The drug proved effective in up to 95 percent of cases but cost at least $60,000 per inmate.

IDOC officials say not all infected inmates will get Sovaldi. It will be approved on a case-by-case basis and depends on a variety of factors. Tom Schaer is the director of communications for IDOC.

“A medical evaluation of doctors is first and foremost,” said Schaer,

“Second, whether the medication is appropriate for that particular inmate. Third, are other drugs working?”

Dr. Steven O’Marro with the Springfield Clinic says Sovaldi does have benefits over other drugs.

“The exciting thing about Sovaldi and drugs like it is these drugs can be used without the interferon drug that makes people so sick,” says O’Marro.

“The other thing is they can be used over a shorter period of time.”

Prisons are currently spending about $8 million a year on a variety of drugs to treat hepatitis C.

If just one-fourth of Illinois inmates with hepatitis C take Sovaldi, it would cost taxpayers almost $47 million dollars.

Representative Bill Mitchell has begun drafting legislation to prohibit the use of Sovaldi in correction facilities.

“I can tell you people in central Illinois that have to deal with these cuts in our schools, things like that, they’re not going to understand why you’re cutting school districts and yet giving a Cadillac treatment to an inmate in IDOC. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Sovaldi is currently available for inmates but Mitchell hopes to introduce his legislation to prohibit the use of Sovaldi in Illinois prisons by the end of next week.