A rise in hepatitis C cases and concerns over the potential spread of HIV point to the need for the resumption of a needle exchange program and a more complete approach to treating drug addiction in Madison County.
Needle exchange programs allow drug addicts to get clean needles so that they don’t share needles contaminated by blood-borne illnesses. The programs also offer addicts help in beating their addiction.
With Aspire Indiana Health, which provides a range of health services, apparently poised to launch a new needle exchange, hopes are high that more people will seek treatment without the community being flooded by drug paraphernalia.
That was the sticking point (so to speak) for the county health department’s needle exchange program that was stopped, after two years, when county funding was taken away in August. The needle exchange had become a lightning rod for criticism by those who argued that it was enabling and attracting drug users and causing needles, syringes and other used paraphernalia to be discarded in alleys, parks and other public places.
Now, Madison County is among several Indiana counties in a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pilot program to assess cases of hepatitis.
Hepatitis C can last a lifetime and cause life-threatening liver dysfunction. The Indiana State Department of Health has secured a grant of $800,000 over four years to improve hepatitis C and B assessment.
“The goal is to get better data on both a state and national level to increase understanding of the risk factors for transmission,” explained Jennifer O’Malley, director of the ISDH office of public affairs.
Meanwhile, the county health department has received state grants to hire a disease intervention specialist to assess HIV cases in the county.
Like hepatitis C, HIV is often spread through the sharing by drug addicts of contaminated needles.
While the HIV picture locally is somewhat unclear, statistics leave no doubt that our county has a major problem with hepatitis.
Preliminary data for last year from the state showed the hepatitis C rate in Madison County at 4.6 per 100,000 population, the highest rate among five counties that reported data and almost three times higher than the state rate in 2016.
Stopping such contagion was the aim of the now-defunct needle exchange program.
Madison County desperately needs the program back, though in a revised form, to address the concerns mentioned earlier.
Currently, Aspire Indiana Health is considering running the Madison County program with a focus on treatment. More than anything, that’s what our area needs — readily available assistance to overcome opioid and other drug addictions.