County limits clean needles given to drug users to prevent dangerous accidents

MADISON COUNTY, Ind. - A needle exchange program in Madison County is changing its policy to limit the number of clean needles given out after complaints of residents finding dirty needles in public places.

"We’ve had two children under the age of five that have been stuck with heroin needles. Neighbors, people mowing their grass, pick up a bag, get stuck with heroin needles. It just simply wasn’t a program that I believed was being administered responsibly," said Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings.

He recently spoke out to county health leaders about the program which was launched in 2015.

Health officials hoped to prevent the spread of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C by giving drug users clean needles so they didn't share dirty needles. But the problem is, more than half of the syringes given out were not returned.

According to the Madison County Health Department, 234,165 syringes were distributed between August 5, 2015 and July 31, 2017. During that period, only 125,874 syringes were returned. However, the return rate has increased to 81% since April when the department implemented new strategies to increase the return rate.

"In our community, it was a needle giveaway program," said Cummings. "It leaves thousands of needles on the streets, in our parks, and on our street corners and our parking lots and our community. It was just unacceptable."

That's why the Health Department recently reached an agreement with Cummings to change the program's policy to a one-for-one exchange. Cummings said now people will only be given 30 needles to begin with and when they return for more, they must exchange a used needle for every new one.

"If they come back with 20, they get 20. If they come back with 10, they get 10. It’s a 1 for 1 exchange. Hopefully that will help keep the needles off our street corners, off our sidewalks, out of our parking lots, out of our parks."

Stephenie Grimes is in charge of the program. In an email to FOX59, she wrote

"MCHD feels the policy, using a one-for-one (with the few exceptions) is acceptable. More than anything, we want to continue provide this service to prevent disease, test for Hepatitis C and HIV, link participants to substance abuse treatment, and primary health care, which will help alleviate the burden on the entire county in several ways.  Public health is one aspect to the drug issue in Madison County.  Disease prevention and linkage to care is our part."

Counties with needle exchange programs can make their own policies. In Allen County, health officials tell us they allow an initial kit of supplies and 30 syringes for first time clients. After that, they strive for a one-for-one exchange for repeat visitors.

"Our standard operating procedures for our SSP do allow for up to a 3:1 exchange allowance should there be an extenuating circumstance that might warrant it," explained Megan Tinkel, spokeswoman for the Allen County Health Department. "This is rare and has not occurred yet in our exchange program.