Delaware County officials oppose needle exchange program

DELAWARE COUNTY, Ind - Officials in Delaware County are voicing strong opposition to a needle exchange program for drug addicts like the one currently offered in neighboring Madison County.

Chief Deputy Prosecutor Zach Craig said County Council members were shocked to see the different items included with each exchange kit.

“Essentially what you see here is everything but a lighter and heroin,” Craig said. “I look at it as kind of providing the infrastructure for the heroine drug trade in our state.”

Aside from hundreds of clean syringes, each packet includes a small metal cap which presumably would be used to cook heroin. The kit also includes a tourniquet strap, saline solution, cotton balls and band-aids. The kits also include condoms.

Craig says the kits basically serve to enable a heroin addict to keep using the drug.

“People are going to use,” Craig said. “But there’s no reason we need to make it this easy for them to commit a crime and to do something that’s going to potentially kill them.”

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb just signed a law to allow counties to set up their own needle exchange programs without state approval.

Stephenie Grimes, who runs Madison County’s needle exchange program, sees it differently. She says the exchange program was started in response to an emergency outbreak of Hepatitis-C in Madison County. Hepatitis-C can often indicate the risk of HIV spreading in a community and Grimes says the needle exchange is a crucial tool in preventing that.

“Our mission is disease control,” Grimes said. “We started this, we continue this to stop the spread of disease. If we took the syringes away, they’re still going to use. And they’re going to go back to using dirty syringes.”

Grimes said the different items in the kit are all intended to stop HIV and Hepatitis-C from passing from one drug user to another.

“Using a clean syringe and pulling from a dirty cooker doesn’t help,” she said. “You can still transmit disease that way. That’s why we give those items.”

Grimes also said each kit also provides important information about overdoses and seeking treatment for drug addiction. Grimes hopes the kids will serve as a carrot that brings drug addicts into contact with health officials so they can have conversations about getting away from drug use.

Craig says he respects the good intentions of a needle exchange program on a public health basis, but part of his concern stems from the fact that participants in the needle exchange program are not required to return dirty needles in order to receive fresh ones.

“So essentially, we’re going to start flooding our communities with all these needles out there,” Craig said. “And we’re just hoping that they’re going to be using them safely.”

The Madison County program does provide containers so participants can return the dirty needles.

“However, there are associated crimes with drug use that are always going to be present,” Craig said. “Robberies, burglaries, homicides. They always follow drug use.”

Delaware County Commissioners have given approval to the drafting of a formal resolution that states the county’s opposition to a needle exchange program. Craig said he expects that resolution to be drafted and passed soon.