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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — About 20 Indiana counties could soon have needle-exchange programs in place or in the works to help prevent the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C among intravenous drug users, an infectious disease expert told a legislative panel.
Beth Meyerson, co-director of Indiana University's Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention, also told members of the Interim Study Committee on Public Health that studies show needle exchanges can halt the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C among IV drug-using populations.
But Meyerson said Monday that Indiana's needle-exchange programs differ somewhat from those in place elsewhere in the U.S. because the Indiana programs are in rural, not urban, areas.
"They represent a new generation of syringe exchange," she said.
Indiana's health commissioner has approved needle-exchanges in Scott, Madison and Fayette counties to combat the spread of HIV and hepatitis C under a new state law allowing those programs that was spurred by the largest HIV outbreak in state history.
Needle exchanges provide IV drug users with clean needles to prevent people from sharing needles, which can spread diseases.
Fifteen counties have been moving toward potentially implementing needle exchange programs, The Indianapolis Star reported (http://indy.st/1JjjuWJ ).
Clark County officials have endorsed a needle exchange but have not received state approval to implement it, while Monroe County officials recently began exploring the idea of one.
Because Indiana's three approved needle-exchange programs are in their infancy, it's difficult to gauge their success, said Joey Fox, legislative director of the Indiana State Department of Health.
Scott County's program has operated the longest, having begun in early April on a temporary basis until the new state law took effect and health Commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams approved its program for a year.
The southern Indiana county about 30 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky, is the center of an epidemic that has seen more than 170 HIV cases since January, most of those in the small Scott County city of Austin.
In a typical year, health officials said Scott County would see only about five new HIV cases.
Madison County sought permission to start a needle exchange following a dramatic increase in hepatitis C among minors.
The central Indiana county's fledgling needle-exchange program has shown that many people participating live within a short distance each other, said Kellie Kelley, a spokeswoman for the Madison County Health Department.
She said that's not unlike the situation in Scott County.
"All of our counties, I believe, have an Austin, Indiana, in them," Kelley said.
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com
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