Even though the number of hepatitis C cases in Tippecanoe County has doubled since 2013, location concerns keep blocking implementation of a syringe exchange program that could help stem the spread of disease.
That was the message from a Wednesday night meeting in Lafayette on the county’s battle against addiction and its ancillary health issues.
Indiana State Department of Health Chief Medical Consultant Dr. Joan Duwve says hepatitis C is much easier to transmit than HIV, which is another concern that follows opioid epidemics.
She says the county needs both additional treatment for hep C and methods to prevent new cases.
“That said, an effective syringe exchange program actually will show decreases in hepatitis C rates as well,” she says. “Hopefully, look for decline in the numbers of new cases of hepatitis C here after syringe exchange.”
County Commissioner Tracy Brown, a former county sheriff, says it’s local government’s responsibility to stop the demand for heroin in the county. He says law enforcement agencies have been pulling their weight to stop the supply.
“We need to invest likewise in solving the problem, looking for another return on our investment in other areas, and it’s going to take a lot of work,” he says. “Because, we’re talking about the syringe services program right now. We haven’t even begun to talk about what we need in terms of mental health treatment.”
The Tippecanoe County Health Department has the capability to run both a mobile and fixed syringe exchange program, but neither Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski nor West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis has endorsed putting a fixed location in the county’s two largest cities.
Health officer Jeremy Adler says the department has been working to find a location since December.
He says while he hopes finding a space will come “very soon,” he expects the mobile unit to be rolled out first.
“Everything we need is in the mobile unit,” Adler says. “We’re not relying on space inside somebody else’s building, it’s a self-contained one-stop shop sort of setup. So, I think that will be a lot easier for us to get up and running.”
The health department owns a fully-equipped mobile unit, but cannot start the program until stop locations are approved.