Public health emergency declared in Allen County

Health emergency declared to reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C

ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) – Thursday a public health emergency was declared in Allen County. Hepatitis C and HIV cases are rising. Declaring the emergency is the first step in establishing a syringe services program. That’s a program where someone can bring in used needles to get brand new ones.

“I know this is challenging,” Allen County Health Commissioner Deborah McMahan said. “I know this is a difficult concept to wrap your mind around, but I do think this is really one step forward in reducing the transmission.”

We first saw a program like this in Scott County when Hep C and HIV skyrocketed due to drug use.

Then, the same happened here. McMahan estimates about 6,000 people are using IV drugs in the county with nearly 40,000 are abusing opioids in some way. In 2015, HIV cases went up 30 percent and Hep C went up 60 percent.

It’s a health crisis, but also a strain on funds. The Health Department crunched the numbers to treat just one of the diseases.

“We estimated looking at all the new cases in that year, assuming only half of them would want or qualify for treatment, that would still be about $3 million,” McMahan said. “For one county, one population, one year.”

The Health Department and its partner Positive Resource Connection raised money to fund the program, and will apply for funding to buy supplies. McMahan said it would cost taxpayers about $5,000.

She said the department isn’t’ condoning the criminal act of drug use, but addressing the health crisis.

“[Researchers] have looked at this data, they’ve looked for that very thing– does it increase crime, does it increase addiction? The answer is no. I think I feel confident at this time we are following best practices,” McMahan said.

The clinic will open next month at 519 Oxford Street.