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Wayne County Becomes Indiana's Fifth State-Approved Needle Exchange Location

Becca Costello
Indiana Public Broadcasting

The Indiana State Health Commissioner Friday declared a public health emergency for Wayne County, allowing the county to establish a syringe exchange program. The state has approved four other syringe exchange programs.

The exchange program will begin in the next 30-60 days, after the county has time to take advantage of free training from the state health department.

The program will run once a month for two hours at the Centerstone center in Richmond. The county health department will offer HIV testing on site. Reed Health regional hospital will provide a financial navigator to help people with health insurance questions. Centerstone will offer behavioral health counseling.

“I think, first and foremost, the number one goal is to try to reduce the public health exposure in our community,” says Dr. Eric Coulter, Wayne County Health Department Executive Director.

Wayne County declared a public health emergency on Oct. 1, 2015 due to a Hepatitis C epidemic linked to intravenous drug use. The county Health Board and Commissioners studied the idea of a syringe exchange program since then, holding a public meeting on March 30.

Some residents of Richmond expressed concern about the proposed location, but Coulter says those fears will likely go away over time.

“The easiest way to look at this, do you want to pick it up off your sidewalk or do you want it disposed of properly?” Coulter says.

The board of commissioners voted unanimously in April to apply for a syringe exchange program. The paperwork was submitted to the state May 20.

“By identifying troubling risk factors and developing a comprehensive plan to address it, Wayne County is showing its commitment to protecting the health of its citizens and its communities,” said State Health Commission Jerome Adams in a statement.

Wayne County ranks fourth in the state in Hepatitis C cases.

The declaration of public health emergency for Wayne County will run through June 2, 2017.