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Needle exchange program run by Malheur County combats disease, drug use

ONTARIO — The Malheur County Health Department has started a needle exchange in an effort to address the county’s high rates of hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C virus, which causes liver disease, is a public health issue throughout Oregon. According to the Oregon Health Authority, the state has the highest mortality rate associated with the hepatitis C virus in the country. In Malheur County, cases of the virus increased by 46% from 2012 to 2017.

The virus is spread through blood and most new cases are due to drug users sharing needles, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The application requesting funding from the Oregon Health Authority states “people who inject drugs have an increased risk of getting and transmitting HIV, viral hepatitis and other blood borne infections by sharing and re-using dirty needles and syringes,” which is why . . .