An estimated 50,000 people in Indiana live with the hepatitis C. Many contracted the virus through intravenous drug use. A new project called HepConnect will work to expand screening, link people to care and support programs like syringe exchanges.
Sen. Jim Merritt (R-Indianapolis) says the work includes understanding how hepatitis C affects the state.
"If we don't know what is going on in our communities, we cannot lead, we cannot help, we cannot solve, we cannot heal," says Merritt.
In 2016, Indiana had nearly 300 hepatitis C-related deaths. The virus can cause serious liver damage and failure.
Whitney Meeks with the Indiana Recovery Alliance says the initiative will also address stigma, an issue that persists even among health care providers.
"You’re not treated the same, they don’t speak to you the same," says Meeks.
Merritt says there are barriers to care related to the stigma of drug use.
"And it’s very, very important that we grasp and conquer the stigma and promote harm reduction," says Merritt.
Harm reduction strategies like syringe exchange programs can decrease rates of hepatitis C.
Gilead Sciences and the Harm Reduction Coalition will lead the push. The program will invest more than $11 million in Indiana and four other states in the first year.
The virus, that attacks the liver, can be treated and sometimes eradicated with medication.