Central Indiana county launching needle-exchange next week

FILE - In this April 21, 2015 file photo, new needles which clients can get as part of the needle exchange program at the Austin Community Outreach Center are displayed in Austin, Ind. Indiana's health commissioner approved a one-year needle-exchange program Thursday, May 21, 2015, for a rural county at the center of the state's largest HIV outbreak, an epidemic that's being driven by needle-sharing among intravenous drug users. The southeastern Indiana county had been operating a temporary needle-exchange under an executive order signed by Gov. Mike Pence that will expire Sunday. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) — A central Indiana county that won state approval last month to run a needle-exchange program will launch its push next week to combat the spread of diseases among intravenous drug users.

Madison County Health Department spokeswoman Kellie Kelley said the needle-exchange program will start next Wednesday and rotate every Wednesday among four sites in the county just northeast of Indianapolis in hopes of reducing the spread of hepatitis C among IV drug users in the county.

“Based on our current caseload, we have at least 50 people that could use our services,” she told The Herald Bulletin.

The county health department has budgeted $13,000 for the needle-exchange program for the rest of the year and has set a goal of establishing a one-stop referral program to offer services for HIV, hepatitis C and other offerings, including substance abuse treatment.

In June, Madison County became the second Indiana county to win state approval for a needle-exchange program under a new state law spurred by an HIV outbreak centered in southern Indiana’s Scott County. That outbreak has become the largest HIV outbreak in Indiana history, with 175 confirmed cases that have been fueled by needle-sharing among IV drug users.

Scott County’s needle-exchange program was approved in May, the first in the state under the new law.

Needle-exchanges provide IV drug users with clean syringes and collect used needles to help prevent the spread of diseases, including hepatitis C, which is often a harbinger of HIV outbreaks.

Madison County had 70 new cases of hepatitis C in 2013, but the county’s new cases increased to 130 in 2014 and health official said the current rates will match or surpass last year’s levels.

The county’s health department has received its first shipment of needle-exchange supplies, including 17,000 syringes. Most of those syringes, 12,000, are being supplied through individual and community partners, while 5,000 have come through funding from Point Defiance AIDS Projects.

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