(BEDFORD) - The Lawrence County needle exchange program is now aiming for a December 1 start date, as opposed to November 1.
Sherry Lawson, Lawrence County Health Department public health nurse, says that the reason for the later start date is due to training local law enforcement officers so they are aware of legal protections provided to those who have received services from a needle exchange program.
On Friday, the Indiana State Department of Health declared a public health emergency for Lawrence County in October, allowing the county's health department to establish a needle-exchange program in an effort to reduce the spread of hepatitis C.
Lawrence County became the seventh county in the state to be approved for a needle exchange program. Public health emergencies previously have been declared in Monroe, Clark, Madison, Fayette, Wayne and Scott counties.
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.
Since February, the Health Department is seeing 5 to 10 new cases of Hepatitis C a week. In the month of May, 8 out of the 9 inmates tested positive for the disease.
In July, the Lawrence County Commissioners approved the health department's request to enter into a contract with Indiana Recovery Alliance to implement and oversee the syringe exchange program locally.
Indiana Recovery Alliance, a Bloomington-based nonprofit that operates Monroe County's needle-exchange program, will provide the same services in Lawrence County.
Along with providing new, clean needles and sharps disposal containers, the IRA distributes naloxone, the drug that reverses opioid overdoses, provides free HIV and hepatitis C testing, and makes referrals to treatment and other social services.
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