Marion County officials proposal needle exchange amid hepatitis C surge

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Marion County leaders are pushing for a a needle exchange program after a surge in hepatitis C cases.

Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Public Health Department, there was a 1,000 percent increase in cases from 2013 to 2017. Marion County averages less than five cases a year, but Caine said 72 cases were confirmed last year and many more cases likely were undiagnosed. 

During a Thursday news conference, Caine called it a public health epidemic. 

“Hepatitis is primarily through the spread of contaminated needles, sharing of needles or contaminated blood,” she said. 

She supports a needle exchange program. “It’s not the only answer, but it’s a critical tool.”

Caine points to Scoot County, which experienced an HIV outbreak two years ago. She said a needle exchange program was instrumental in resolving the crisis.

A similar program in Marion County would first need the approval of the Indianapolis City-County Council. It will consider the program at 7 p.m. Monday during its meeting in the City-County Building.

Council President Vop Osili has offered his support. 

“Individuals are five times more likely to seek treatment with programs like this,” Osili said. 

The program would also include HIV and hepatitis C screenings, referrals to mental health and drug addiction treatment, and education literature. 

However, not everyone is on board. Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill said he believes the needle exchange program is more like a needle handout program. 

“What’s happening in these counties, if they speak truthfully, is they have an onslaught of additional needles throughout the community that are dangerous, that are being found in parks, that are being found in homes, yards. What was well-intended is creating a very dangerous situation,” Hill said. 

Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by a virus. It can lead to liver failure and liver cancer and can be deadly. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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