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Clark County Seeks Indiana's OK For Needle Exchange Program

Creative Commons

Clark County will soon ask the Indiana Department of Health for permission to move forward with a needle exchange program.

Clark is just south of Scott County, which drew national attention earlier this year during an HIV epidemic largely caused by intravenous drug use.

The county's health officer recently declared a health emergency and requested a needle exchange program, which county commissioners support. Once Clark officials make their request, which is expected in the coming days, the state's health department will have 10 days to act.

Clark County has 25 percent more HIV infections and 35 percent more Hepatitis C infections than state averages, county health officer Kevin Burke said. The county has also experienced a recent increase in substance abuse overdoses: 58 in 2014, up from 32 overdoses in 2013, Burke said.

The county is projected to have about 70 overdose deaths by the end of this year, he said.

Clark is wedged between two communities that have recently adopted needle exchanges. Burke said at least one Clark County resident acquired HIV in neighboring Scott County, which has had more than 150 cases during this year's HIV outbreak.

Meanwhile, Louisville -- which earlier this year established its own needle exchange program -- and much of Kentucky continue struggling to counter recent increases in heroin usage.

Burke said a needle exchange program in Clark could decrease the spread of blood-borne diseases and connect people with substance abuse treatment.

"You're cutting infection, increasing individuals' participation in drug rehab programs, and you're not making it more likely that they'll shoot up IV drugs," he said.

If Clark County's program is approved, the next step will be to determine how to cover its cost.

"It's very difficult for our county to earmark additional monies for a new program. They're sort of cash strapped and tend to run a deficit each year," he said.

Officials will look into securing funding from philanthropic organizations or partnering with organizations that already provide needles and other resources. Burke said the county does not yet have an estimate for the cost of its program.

Burke said he's discussed the Clark County needle exchange program with Indiana State Health Commissioner Jerome Adams and is confident that state officials will approve it.