Indiana lets Wayne County create needle-exchange program

Heroin epidemic in the Miami Valley (WDTN Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana health commissioner declared a public health emergency Friday for Wayne County, moving the eastern Indiana community one step closer to a syringe-exchange program aimed at stopping the spread of disease.

The action by Commissioner Jerome Adams allows the Wayne County Health Department to establish a needle-exchange program and comes more than eight months after the county’s health officer, Dr. David Keller, declared a health emergency because of the number of HIV and hepatitis C infections. However, the Wayne County commissioners debated the matter for months and did not turn in the necessary paperwork until Tuesday.

Eric Coulter, executive director of the health department, called the county’s hepatitis C situation “desperate” during a March 30 public hearing, the Palladium-Item reported. Statistics showed Wayne County has recorded 179 hepatitis C cases per 100,000 people, compared to the state average of 69 per 100,000.

“Rising hepatitis C rates are a key indicator of injection drug use that can spread disease,” Adams said in a news release. “By identifying troubling risk factors and developing a comprehensive plan to address it, Wayne County is showing its commitment to protecting the health of its citizens and its communities.”

The public health emergency declaration lasts one year, until June 2, 2017.

Officials plan to set up the exchange program from 3-5 p.m. on one Thursday each month at a location where opiate users could turn in used syringes and needles and receive new syringes and needles.

Mental health services provider Centerstone will provide the location and some of the staff, and Reid Health will underwrite some of the costs and provide volunteers, Coulter said.

Four other Indiana counties — Fayette, Madison, Monroe and Scott — also have state approval to operate needle exchanges.

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