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Madison County needle exchange program faces funding woes

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ANDERSON, Ind. — A central Indiana county’s needle exchange program is in jeopardy amid efforts to cut its local funding.

The Madison County Council tabled a $15,000 request last week from the county’s health department to fund the program, The Herald Bulletin reported.

The move comes ahead of Councilman Brent Holland’s plans to present an ordinance in July that would bar county or grant money from being used to purchase syringes or cookers used by intravenous drug users. Holland has said he wants public funds to be used only for educational and treatment items.

County public health coordinator Stephanie Grimes said the supplies are purchased with money from private donations, not with state or federal funds.

Needle exchanges provide people with clean syringes to discourage needle sharing. Medical experts say the programs reduce the spread of HIV, hepatitis and other diseases and don’t cause increases in drug use.

But Councilman Anthony Emery, who’s a State Police trooper, said he arrests people for possession of items similar to what the health department is distributing.

“We’re funding something that is illegal,” he said. “We should not be supporting this program.”

Indiana began allowing needle exchanges in 2015 with state approval, after IV drug use fueled the state’s worst HIV outbreak in southern Indiana. But a new law signed in April by Gov. Eric Holcomb removes the state-approval requirement and gives Indiana counties and municipalities more freedom to create their own needle-exchanges.

Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings said that over the past three years, 700 people have died in in the county from drug overdoses. He suggested getting people to treatment programs instead of using the needle exchange.

But Grimes said that space is limited in drug treatment centers in the county that’s just northeast of Indianapolis.