Department of Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences, University of Kentucky , Lexington, Kentucky, USA.
Department of Behavioral Science, College of Medicine, University of Kentucky , Lexington, Kentucky, USA.
Center on Drug and Alcohol Research, University of Kentucky , Lexington, Kentucky, USA.
Department of Sociology, College of Arts and Sciences, University of Kentucky , Lexington, Kentucky, USA.
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to examine the drug use and criminal justice factors related to hepatitis C virus (HCV) antibody reactivity among rural women in the USA recruited from local jails. Design/methodology/approach Analyses included 277 women with a history of injection drug use from three rural jails in Kentucky. Participants completed health and drug use questionnaires and received antibody testing for HCV. Findings The majority of women tested reactive to the HCV antibody (69 percent). Reactivity was associated with risk factors, such as unsterile needle use. Criminal justice variables, including an increased likelihood of prison incarceration, an earlier age of first arrest, and a longer incarceration history, were associated with HCV reactive tests. Participants also endorsed several barriers to seeking healthcare before entering jail that were more prevalent in women testing HCV reactive regardless of HCV status awareness before entering jail. Originality/value Injection and high-risk sharing practices as well as criminal justice factors were significantly associated with HCV reactivity. Future research and practice could focus on opportunities for linkages to HCV treatment during incarceration as well as during community re-entry to help overcome real or perceived treatment barriers. The current study highlights the importance of the criminal justice system as a non-traditional, real-world setting to examine drug use and related health consequences such as HCV by describing the association of high-risk drug use and criminal justice consequences with HCV among rural women recruited from local jails.