- Associated Press - Thursday, April 21, 2016

RICHMOND, Ind. (AP) - Two Indiana counties are seeking permission from the state to begin or continue needle exchange programs in an effort to slow the spread of hepatitis C and HIV among narcotic drug users.

Commissioners in Wayne and Scott counties voted unanimously Wednesday in favor of their respective needle exchanges.

Wayne County has been planning for its proposed exchange since 2015, when a local official declared a health emergency due to the number of HIV and hepatitis C infections. Scott County, where the state’s first exchange was established after last year’s HIV outbreak, wants to continue its exchange for the second year.

Both counties must submit paperwork, including a form explaining other ways they have tried to combat the viruses, before they can receive permission from the Indiana State Department of Health for the exchanges.

If its request to set up an exchange is approved, the Wayne County Health Department would arrange a location for two hours each month where opiate users could turn in used syringes and needles, and receive a safety box with new syringes and needles.

Last year, four Indiana counties - Fayette, Madison, Monroe and Scott - won state approval to operate needle exchanges for one year under a new state law.

A request by Clark County to run an exchange is pending with the state health commissioner’s office. Beth Meyerson, co-director of the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention at Indiana University, expects more than 20 other Indiana counties to eventually seek state approval to run needle exchanges.

Supporters of the exchanges hope they will reduce the amount of disease-carrying needles in sidewalks, yards, parks and other public places.

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