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Southern Indiana county might seek needle-exchange program

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (AP) – Local officials are considering whether to seek state approval for a needle-exchange program in a southern Indiana county neighboring the one at the center of HIV outbreak among intravenous drug users.

The Clark County health officer has asked county commissioners to declare a health epidemic and request the state Health Department’s permission to start a needle exchange.

Dr. Kevin Burke told commissioners that the county now has rates of HIV and hepatitis C infections about 25 percent higher than the state average, the News and Tribune reported ( ).

Clark County is across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky, and just south of Scott County, which has most of this year’s approximately 170 new HIV cases linked to needle-sharing among people who injected a liquefied form of the painkiller Opana.

The Clark County commissioners plan a July 30 public hearing on the epidemic declaration.

State health officials have approved needle-exchange programs for Scott County and central Indiana’s Madison County under a state law approved in April that was spurred by the Scott County HIV outbreak that’s become the largest in state history. Officials in eastern Indiana’s Wayne County are considering needle-exchange program approval.

Burke told the Clark County commissioners in a letter that data shows needle-exchange programs result in a “significant decrease in infections, greater entry into drug rehab program and no increase in IV drug use in communities with the programs.”

Commissioner Jack Coffman said officials have some concerns about paying for the needle-exchange program from the county Health Department’s budget and that state assistance might be needed.