The Veterans Administration is currently conducting a collaborative study in three hospital based drug treatment clinics to evaluate asymptomatic parenteral drug addicts for evidence of hepatic disease. Preliminary data are presented on 347 patients who have completed at least three mth of follow up evaluation. On admission, abnormal serum transaminase values were demonstrated in one half, HBsAg in 7%, and anti HBs in 59%. The frequency of these findings increased during the follow up evaluation, only 19(5.5%) remaining entirely free of one or more of these abnormalities. Definable hepatologic disease (acute or chronic hepatitis, alcohol hepatitis) developed in 46% of the patients. However, among 60 of them subjected to liver biopsy, a poor correlation was noted between the clinical and histologic diagnoses. In particular, routine liver function and immunologic tests did not discriminate between histologically detected chronic active and chronic persistent hepatitis, HbsAg was present significantly more frequently in those with chronic active hepatitis. Wide variability of histologic diagnoses was seen among patients subjected to more than one biopsy, apparent progression and regression of the lesion being noted. This demonstrates the hazard of attempting to assign a prognosis to the disease on the basis of a single liver biopsy specimen, and suggests that repeated biopsies should be mandatory for the evaluation of chronic liver disease in drug addicts.
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