ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) — Health officials are working to open four needle-exchange sites in a central Indiana county after being granted state approval for the program because of disease being spread among intravenous drug users.
The Madison County Health Department wants to have the sites open by late July or early August — two in Anderson and one each in Alexandria and Elwood.
People using the program will have access to other services at each site, such as substance abuse treatment programs and assistance in obtaining food and housing, county public health coordinator Stephanie Grimes told the Herald Bulletin.
“They will not be required to use any of the services,” Grimes said. “The services are being offered for when they make the decision to utilize them.”
The state health commissioner approved Madison County’s public health emergency request on Tuesday because of an increased number of hepatitis C cases. It is the state’s second needle-exchange program, following southern Indiana’s Scott County, which is facing an HIV outbreak.
The move comes after Madison County had 130 new hepatitis C cases last year, nearly double its number from 2013. The rates for this year will match or surpass 2014 levels, according to the county health department.
Health officials say high hepatitis C rates are often a precursor to HIV tied to needle-sharing among intravenous drug users.
Grimes said it’s estimated that half of the county’s reported hepatitis C cases are in Anderson, with the remaining majority in Elwood and Alexandria, both smaller cities in the northern part of the county.
More than 160 people have tested positive in recent months for HIV in the Indiana outbreak.
That outbreak, centered in Scott County, prompted Gov. Mike Pence in March to allow a short-term needle-exchange program for the county and for state legislators to approve a new law allowing communities in the midst of an epidemic to seek approval from the state health commissioner to launch such programs.
Grimes said the Madison County sites will provide tests for hepatitis C and HIV, with vouchers available for free initial doctor visits so they can referred to an infectious disease specialist for treatment.
Information from: The Herald Bulletin, http://www.theheraldbulletin.com
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