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Boone County dealing with Hepatitis C outbreak, leaders considering needle exchange program

BOONE COUNTY, Ind. – A Hepatitis C outbreak is prompting Boone County leaders to consider a needle exchange program, according to a county council member. The county has seen an increase in the number of new cases, with most people being infected by sharing needles to inject drugs.

There were 65 new cases of Hepatitis C by the end of 2016, council member Tom Santelli (R-District 1) tells FOX 59. He said that there were under five cases in the entire state back in 2002.

“We have to get ahead of the curve,” Santelli said.

Santelli is a part of the Substance Abuse Task Force of Boone County, which includes the sheriff and the health department administrator. They’re seeing the drug problem manifest itself in different ways throughout the county.

“We had one woman in our jail arrested for drug charges and she shared a single needle with 30 other people in one weekend,” Santelli said. “You could really transmit the Hep C to 30 different people in a matter of hours.”

Santelli said there is concern that drug users will dispose of dirty needles improperly and other Boone County residents will be exposed.

“We’re looking at a needle sharing program to help mitigate this,” he said.

A bill heading to Governor Eric Holcomb’s desk would allow counties to launch needle exchange programs without state approval.

Santelli said county leaders have even traveled to counties with needle exchange programs already in place to learn more. Still, they are in the initial stages of research and launching a needle exchange program would require more input.

Sheriff Mike Nielsen said he is working closely with the health department to find ways to deal with the worsening drug problem. He is focused on connecting addicts with resources to get them treatment.