COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ The rise of heroin usage and subsequent surge in hepatitis C infections in central Ohio has state health officials considering new ways to combat the issue, including a needle-exchange program.
The number of hepatitis C cases statewide grew from 10,020 in 2013 to 15,887 in 2014. Franklin County is on pace to record more than 1,400 cases this year alone, The Columbus Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1NJgUtB) reported.
Hepatitis C is a treatable but possibly deadly blood-borne viral disease that can be spread through needles shared by intravenous drug users.
The Ohio Department of Health reported this year that heroin-related deaths increased statewide from 697 in 2012 to 983 in 2013. There were 197 drug-overdose deaths in Franklin County in 2013.
The current law requires Ohio communities to declare an emergency before offering clean needles to residents.
Cleveland, Cincinnati, Portsmouth and Dayton all have needle-exchange programs.
Columbus Health Commissioner Dr. Teresa Long said officials are considering a comprehensive program to address heroin use and disease, but no formal plans have been made.
Long said she is interested in increasing the distribution of naloxone, which is already being used in Franklin County. The drug, also known as Narcan, is an antidote used to treat opioid users who have overdosed.
Tania Peterson, director of prevention at AIDS Resource Center Ohio, said a needle-exchange program would help prevent the issues currently plaguing Indiana _ which is experiencing its largest outbreak of HIV due to intravenous drug use and needle sharing.
Jeff Cooper, health commissioner at Public Health _ Dayton & Montgomery County, said his department’s once-a-week needle exchange saw 43 clients and exchanged 650 needles as of last month.
The program, called CarePoint, also refers users to drug-treatment and mental-health agencies among other services.
Long said the most effective program for central Ohio would similarly take a comprehensive approach.