A community collection box for disposing of used needles hangs from a trash can near a playground in Deering Oaks Park in Portland on May 9, 2019.

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 and Prevention said 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, said 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, said the long-term goal is 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 said increasing the number of exchanges is one of the top priorities of the Mills administration.