Lawrence County declares public health emergency, others could follow

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LAWRENCE COUNTY, Ind. (Jan. 15, 2016) — Lawrence County has become the latest in Indiana to declare a public health emergency related to drug use and Hepatitis C outbreaks.

In a news release, the county’s health department said it will explore the start of a syringe exchange program and hold a public hearing on the matter at a date still to be determined.

Four Indiana counties are already taking advantage of a new Indiana state law allowing for the implementation of needle exchange programs, with state approval.

“A┬ásyringe exchange program is more than just needles and syringes,” state epidemiologist Pam Pontones said.

The programs allow counties to get drug users help by meeting them where they are in new ways. In Monroe County, for instance, an exchange program due to roll out later this month will be run out of a van that travels around the county weekly.

“You can address several different risk factors for transmitting disease and be able to put a community on a good path toward reducing that disease transmission,” Pontones said.

syringe exchange mapThe Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention, run through Indiana University, put out this map showing counties that are currently seeking approval for exchange programs, as well as those simply studying the issue, shown in pink.

“In some counties the Sheriffs are leading the effort, in other counties the health department leads the effort, in other counties parents and the treatment community are leading the effort,” co-director Dr. Beth Meyerson said.

Meyerson said that Hepatitis C is the greatest indicator for other disease, like HIV, linked to drug use. She called Lawrence County’s decision a positive move.

” To provide (people) that lifeline is a significant, courageous move of trust,” Meyerson said.