PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine plans to launch a $1.5 expansion of syringe exchanges to combat the surge in hepatitis C cases in the state.

The Maine Center for Disease Control says the state has had 51 acute cases in 2019 and is running a rate nearly three times the national average.

Director of the Maine CDC, Dr. Nirav Shah, says the cases of hepatitis C in Maine is “an unfortunate outcropping of the substance use crisis.”

Executive director of the Health Equity Alliance, Kenney Miller, says the long-term goal’s to have at least one syringe exchange in all 16 counties.

The Portland Press Herald reports there are currently exchange programs in Bangor, Ellsworth, Belfast, Machias, Portland, Augusta and Waterville.

Shah says increasing the number of exchanges is one of the top priorities of the Mills administration.

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