- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

ASHLAND, Ky. (AP) - The Ashland-Boyd County Health Department is planning a needle-exchange program to prevent the further spread of Hepatitis C in the area.

The number of Hepatitis C deaths in the area “shot up dramatically” in 2011 and 2012, the Independent (https://bit.ly/1POTClJ ) quoted Boyd County Coroner Mark Hammond as saying. The leading cause for the spread of the disease has been through dirty needles used by drug users, he said.

Kentucky leads the nation in the incidence of hepatitis C, with 4.1 cases per 100,000 residents, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The national average is .6 cases per 100,000 people.

Northern Kentucky has a needle-exchange program, as well as Lexington, Louisville, Jessamine County and others, said Epidemiologist Kristy Bolen.

The needle-exchange program can be used as a tool to stymie the spread if Hepatitis C, while also giving the health department an opportunity to educate addicts coming to pick up clean needles, Bolen said.

“We (the health department) look at it like prevention, not enabling,”?Bolen said. “Just like we hand out condoms to prevent the spread of STDs, it’s a way to give them (drug users) something to prevent the spread of Hep C.”

The health department is still seeking approval for the program from the board of health and local governments.

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Information from: The Independent, https://www.dailyindependent.com

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