INDIANAPOLIS (Network Indiana): Indiana is extending local needle exchange programs for another four years.
An HIV outbreak that ravaged Scott County in 2015 prompted then-Governor Mike Pence to
authorize Indiana’s first program allowing addicts to exchange used syringes for clean ones.
Governor Eric Holcomb has dismantled barriers to similar programs, allowing counties to
implement them without awaiting state approval. Eight counties, including Allen, have joined Scott in doing so.
Senators blocked a proposal last year to make that authorization permanent, instead choosing to extend its expiration to 2022. Now legislators have extended it again, this time to 2026.
Mental Health America of Indiana vice president Brandon George says needle exchanges have been proven to promote public health, not only by reducing the spread of HIV and hepatitis, but by bringing addicts into contact with basic health services they’re otherwise unlikely to seek out, and he says those who take part have been five times more likely to enter treatment.
George credits the unqualified support of Holcomb and the Indiana State Department of Health with breaking down opposition to needle exchange. Legislators did chop in half the department’s original request for an eight-year extension, but the proposal otherwise sailed through without the tension which surrounded the plan just a year ago.
The extension is part of a broader health department bill, which Holcomb is expected to sign.