- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 17, 2016

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) - The northeastern Indiana county that’s home to the state’s second-largest city is a step closer to launching a needle exchange to combat the spread of hepatitis C and HIV among drug users.

Allen County’s commissioners approved the needle exchange plan Monday in Fort Wayne following a public hearing during which recovering addicts, relatives of addicts and health care professionals testified.

The county’s request drafted by the Fort Wayne-Allen County health department now heads to the state health commissioner, who has final authorization on needle exchange requests.

County health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan said she hopes to obtain state approval, line up funding and have the exchange up and running by July.

“It depends on how quickly the state moves and how quickly we’re able to mobilize our funds to get the equipment,” she said.

Needle exchanges provide clean syringes to intravenous drug users to prevent needle-sharing that spreads hepatitis C, HIV and other diseases.

But the proposal by county health officials has generated tension with Allen County’s law enforcement community. Both the sheriff and prosecutor opposed health officials’ plan not to require needle-exchange participants to be tested for blood-borne diseases, The Journal Gazette reported (https://bit.ly/1R64GLz ).

The sheriff and prosecutor also expressed concerns that program would encourage drug abuse and had pushed for it to allow participants to get only one clean needle for every dirty needle they turn in.

The plan approved Monday would not require participants to be tested for blood-borne pathogens. It would allow one-for-one needle exchanges but permit staff to negotiate with participants to provide as many as three clean needles for each used needle.

Fayette, Madison, Monroe and Scott counties are the only Indiana counties that have won state approval to date to operate exchanges under a law allowing counties to request approval for such programs.

That law was approved last year in response to an HIV outbreak in Scott County, about 30 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky, that’s the worst such outbreak in state history and has topped 190 HIV cases.

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Information from: The Journal Gazette, https://www.journalgazette.net

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