- Associated Press - Saturday, June 6, 2015

NEW ALBANY, Ind. (AP) - A southern Indiana county that has seen a sharp increase in hepatitis C cases is grappling with how best to deal with the outbreak and prevent an HIV epidemic like one being experienced in a neighboring county.

Floyd County officials say they’ve seen a noticeable rise in hepatitis C cases tied to use of heroin and other drugs. Dr. Tom Harris, the county’s health officer, said the drug is inexpensive and easy to obtain in the area and said he rarely works a shift in which at least one patient isn’t admitted due to problems with the drug.

“This whole heroin epidemic kind of came out of nowhere,” he told the News and Tribune (https://bit.ly/1dh4jSj ).

Sheriff Frank Loop said the county needs a drug addiction center. But recent budget cuts are raising questions about whether the county has the funding to deal with its drug issues.

“It’s going to take money to make things happen, and right now, my biggest problem with being sheriff is my budgetary issues,” Loop said. “So we’re going to deal with the consequences (of drug abuse) if they don’t fund their responsibilities.”

The concerns are being compounded by an HIV outbreak in nearby Scott County, where more than 160 people have tested positive for the virus that causes AIDS. Health officials say high hepatitis C rates are often a precursor to HIV tied to needle-sharing.

Gov. Mike Pence approved a short-term needle-exchange program to combat the Scott County outbreak, and state Health Commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams approved a one-year program last month under a new law that allows communities experiencing high rates of HIV or hepatitis C tied to intravenous drug use to request approval to launch such programs.

Loop said he opposes needle-exchange programs in most cases, and county Commissioner Steve Bush said he tends to feel the same way. Harris said he doesn’t oppose them.

All three said Floyd County isn’t facing enough of a crisis yet to request a needle-exchange program. But Bush didn’t rule one out for the future.

“I’m going to be open-minded because there’s an epidemic in Scott County. What if it comes to Floyd?” he said.

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Information from: News and Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind., https://www.newsandtribune.com

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