It's the fourth county in Indiana to receive approval for needle exchange program from state health officials by Shari Rudavsky, shari.rudavsky@indystar.com

Monroe County has become the fourth in the state to receive approval from the Indiana State Department of Health to start a needle exchange program.

Higher-than-normal rates of hepatitis C led the Monroe County Health Department to ask the state to OK a clean syringe program as one way to combat the problem.

In a request sent to the Health Department in August, Monroe County Health Commissioner Thomas Sharp said that hepatitis C cases in his county have risen by more than 50 percent in the past five years. A little less than 70 percent of new cases of hepatitis C seen at IU Health Bloomington Hospital are attributed to IV drug use, he wrote.

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