State health commissioner declares public health emergency in Wayne County as hepatitis C cases rise

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WAYNE COUNTY, Ind. – The state health commissioner declared a public health emergency for Wayne County Friday, paving the way for a needle exchange program to curb the spread of hepatitis C brought on by drug use.

Dr. Jerome Adams said the move was intended to prevent an outbreak as devastating as the one in Scott County, where hepatitis C and HIV spread through injection drug use.

“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,” Adams said.

Senate Enrolled Act 461 made syringe exchange programs legal in Indiana for the first time. The law lays out the requirements for such a program.

Local health officer must:

  • Declare that an epidemic of hepatitis C or HIV exists
  • Determine that it is primarily transmitted through IV drug use
  • Deem that a syringe exchange program is medically appropriate as part of a comprehensive response

County commissioners must:

  • Hold a public hearing
  • Take official action adopting the declarations of the local health officer (above)
  • Describe other actions taken regarding the epidemic that have proven ineffective
  • Request a public health emergency declaration from the state

The declaration of a public health emergency means the state health commissioner agrees with the assessment of local health officials. By law, the design and implementation of a needle exchange is done on the local level. No state funding is used.

The public health emergency will last in Wayne County through June 2, 2017. Public health emergencies have also been declared in Madison, Monroe, Fayette and Scott counties.

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