First public hearing held outlining plan for Marion Co. needle exchange program

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. —Hoosiers got their first chance to see what a needle exchange program in Marion County on Tuesday during a public hearing.

Dr. Virginia Caine, the director of the Marion County Public Health Department, told the committee of City-County councilors that the consequences of not adopting the strategy could be catastrophic.

“Unless we curtail this outbreak right now the magnitude of the problem is only going to grow significantly,” she said.

In the past year, Caine says hepatitis C infections have jumped tenfold, with 1,000 new infections coming in 2017 alone. It is estimated that there are anywhere from 11,000 to 13,000 people currently living with the disease. The numbers prompted her to declare a public health emergency last week. Caine says what’s scarier is the number of young people now becoming infected.

“We’re seeing 30 percent of our new cases occurring in teenagers, 18, and young adults to age 34. That’s significant!” she said.

Because the department believes the opioid crisis is fueling the infections, Caine says the program would include a “mobile unit” that focuses on areas with high risk, high numbers of overdose deaths, and high levels of Narcan administrations. Health officials would work with program users to lead them towards resources that could help end their addiction, and prevent the spread of hepatitis C, and HIV.

Caine pointed to the successful implementation of a needle exchange in Scott County as proof that the program could help Marion County.

“The evidence proves that it’s one of the most critical tools to curtail an epidemic,” she said.

After the hearing Council President Vop Osili says he believes the consequences of not doing anything about the epidemic would just be too great.

“It is important to be able to address it, point those individuals toward treatment, and see if we can get them off of their addiction,” he said.

There are two more public hearings scheduled at the Marion County Public Health Department (3838 N. Rural St.) on Sunday, May 31st from 6-8 p.m., and Wednesday, June 13, from 6-8 p.m.

The City-County Council is expected to vote on the program on June 12.

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