DIXON – It's not just law enforcement agencies that are taking a proactive approach to Lee County's increased heroin usage — the health department is making strides, too.
This week, the Lee County Health Department started offering rapid screening for Hepatitis C. It's an action that Administrator Cathy Ferguson hopes will stave off any future heroin-related public health crises, like the one that southeastern Indiana has seen.
According to the latest figures, there are now 162 people in Indiana who have been diagnosed with HIV as part of an outbreak that, officials say, stemmed from the sharing of heroin needles.
"Any time people share needles, we worry about infectious diseases," Ferguson said. "In light of the current HIV outbreak in Indiana, it makes you think about it. ... So there is that link to the heroin use, but it’s just another service that we want to be able to offer the community."
The department also offers HIV testing; both that test and the Hepatitis C test are offered on a sliding pay scale.
Whiteside County, too, offers HIV and Hepatitis C testing, also on a sliding pay scale.
Ferguson says the department is also in the process of applying for a grant that would expand its ability to do HIV testing, and be reimbursed for services like handing out Narcan, and opening up a needle exchange.
"There is legislation that allows people to go to a pharmacy and get a certain number of needles per month," Ferguson said. "So, we called around and asked the pharmacies, and they do have some regulars. ... It’s just good public health policy because you don’t want people sharing needles."
Indiana numbers show that a needle exchange now set up in Scott County, the epicenter for the state's HIV outbreak, now has 173 people regularly participating.
According to a news release, 17,527 needles have been brought in, and 18,713 needles have been provided.
If you're interested in being tested for Hepatitis C, first schedule an appointment with your nearest health department.
Lee County Health Department: 815-284-3371
Whiteside County Health Department: 815-626-2230