Monroe County calls for public health emergency, takes first step toward needle exchange program

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MONROE COUNTY, Ind. (Aug. 20, 2015) – Monroe County took the first step in creating its own needle exchange program by calling for a public health emergency this week.

In a letter to the Monroe County Board of Commissioners, Health Commissioner Thomas Sharp wrote that an “epidemic of Hepatitis C” cases led to the declaration. The primary mode of transmission for the disease is through intravenous drug use.

According to Sharp, Hepatitis C cases have risen 50 percent over the last five years in Monroe County. Intravenous drug use accounts for at least 68 percent of new infections, Sharp wrote, citing CDC data. Heroin overdoses at IU Health Bloomington Hospital have increased more than 50 percent in the last year.

Sharp said the current systems in place to stem the tide of Hepatitis C cases—including testing, drug treatment programs and mental health services—have proven “ineffective” in curbing the problem. Sharp advocates the use of a needle exchange program, which other counties dealing with the same issue have implemented.

Health department officials said Monroe is one of the ten Indiana counties with the highest number of Hepatitis C cases.

The county will need to hold a public hearing and then request a needle exchange program from the state. Under a new law, the Indiana State Department of Health can allow counties to set up needle exchange programs if requested.

The law was passed after the number of HIV cases in Scott County surged, an outbreak linked to abuse of a drug called Opana.

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