Wayne County, Indiana is officially in a public health emergency for its high rates of Hepatitis C from intravenous drug use, said Eric Coulter, executive director of Wayne County Health Department.
Coulter said the county applied about two weeks ago to the state to declare a public health emergency. The county got word Friday that it was approved.
Wayne County has a Hepatitis C rate of 179 cases per 100,000 people — the state average is 69 per 100,000, according to Coulter.
Now the county is about two months away from opening a safe needle exchange program, with help from partners Reid Health and Centerstone, a mental health facility.
“We want to try to get dirty needles off the street and properly disposed of,” Coulter said. “We hope it will become a trusted area.”
Centerstone will host the safe needle exchange once a month for two hours. The location has not been released yet, Coulter said.
Last October, Dr. David Keller, medical director of the health department, declared a local state of emergency due to high rates of Hepatitis C due to intravenous drug use.
Coulter said that kicked off the process of getting an official designation from the state. That included hosting a public meeting in March and developing a plan with partners Reid Health and Centerstone.
The safe needle exchange program will include the ability for people to get HIV and Hepatitis C testing as well as access to treatment options, said Kimberly Flanigan, supervisor of clinic operations at Wayne County Health Department.
No state funds will be used in this program, but the costs will be shared between the three partners.
Coulter said the public health emergency does have an end date of June 2, 2017, at which time the county will likely ask for an extension.
Public health emergencies have also been declared in Indiana counties of Monroe, Scott, Madison and Fayette.