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Lawrence County's Needle Exchange Program Opens Tuesday

Last updated on Monday, December 12, 2016

(BEDFORD) - Many who have unwittingly found themselves physically and mentally dependent on opiates have begun to turn to illegal markets to meet their needs. Now they can find help through Lawrence County’s Needle Exchange program.

The exchange program will be open on Tuesday in the form of a van behind the Lawrence County Health Department building at 2419 Mitchell Road.

Indiana Recovery Alliance will providing new, clean needles and sharps disposal containers. They will distribute naloxone, the drug that reverses opioid overdoses. They also provide free HIV and hepatitis C testing and make referrals to treatment and other social services.

Those participating will also receive an anonymous card to help protect them from criminal syringe charges. Law enforcement is not permitted to stop participants solely based on them visiting or leaving the van.

Visitors can exchange needles on Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m. There will be additional hours and locations established at a later date.

The program has been approved by the state for one year. The county must apply for an extension if the program is needed for a longer period.

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.

In July, the Lawrence County Commissioners approved the health department's request to enter into a contract with Indiana Recovery Alliance, a nonprofit organization, to implement and oversee the syringe exchange program locally.

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