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Lawrence County Among Top 15 Counties For Highest Rate Of Hepatitis C
Updated February 24, 2016 8:20 AM | Filed under: Health
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(BEDFORD) - Lawrence County is among the top 15 counties in the state for the highest rate of Hepatitis C per 100,000 people. A third of the Lawrence County Jail population in a six month period of 2015 tested positive for Hepatitis C.

Lawrence County Health Officer Dr. Alan Smith says the Hep C rate per 100,000 increased to 112 percent or more than doubled from 2010 to 2014 because of intravenous drug use.

"Those numbers are significant enough to declare a state of emergency," Smith added.

The Lawrence County Commissioners agreed.

Now the Lawrence County Health Department will submit a plan to the State Department of Health in response to the epidemic.

The plan will include a needle exchange - a harm reduction practice - where addicts can trade dirty syringes for clean ones. Details on how, when and where the needle exchange will run will be released once the plan is approved.

But there is more to the program then just handing out needles. The program will educate, help with addiction, recommend rehab treatment and/or counseling, teaches harm reduction techniques, reduces risk behavior (sharing needles) and removes used syringes from the community, preventing accidental needle sticks and offers testing for HIV and Hep C.

Users have expressed concerns about police arresting them for having drug paraphernalia they've gotten through the program--despite Gov. Mike Pence's executive order legalizing a temporary needle exchange program to exist. The health department has developed a process for addressing those worries working with local law enforcement.

Because Indiana's approved needle-exchange programs are in their infancy, it's difficult to gauge their success. Scott County's program has operated the longest, having begun in early April 2015 on a temporary basis until the new state law took effect and health Commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams approved its program for a year. It was approved following an alarming number of new HIV case as a result of injection drug use. Scott County hands out more than 20,000 syringes a month.

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