Public health emergency declared in Tippecanoe County

(WISH photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WLFI) — The state health commissioner declared Thursday a public health emergency for Tippecanoe County, allowing the way for the local health department to establish a needle exchange program.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams told News 18, on Nov. 21 when Tippecanoe County commissioners approved the needle exchange program, he had been working on a program for about a year to reduce the cases of hepatitis C.

Dr. Adams said in Thursday’s announcement the needle-exchange program is part of a broader program called “Gateway to Hope” and it’s designed to reduce the spread of hep C.

The emergency declaration will be in place for a full year.

“Tippecanoe County saw a nearly 50 percent increase in hepatitis C cases between 2014 and 2015, which can indicate widespread injection drug use and be a precursor to other diseases, such as HIV,” Dr. Adams said in a release.

Dr. Adams said the department understands some community members have concerns about the program, but in other counties they have seen how syringe exchanges can help stop the spread of HIV and hepatitis C. He said it also helps improve a community’s health by connecting residents to health insurance, treatment and other services.

The state made syringe exchange programs legal for the first time under Senate Enrolled Act 461. The law lays out a set of procedural and substantive requirements that local communities must meet in order for an emergency declaration to be considered by the state health commissioner.

By declaring a public health emergency, the state health commissioner agrees with Tippecanoe County’s health officials and county commissioners.

Other counties declared public health emergencies in Indiana are: Clark, Lawrence, Madison, Monroe, Fayette, Wayne, Allen and Scott.