Program tests for Hep C, meets drug addicts in hour of need as Indianapolis debates needle exchange program

INDIANAPOLIS – For the first time Monday, city-county councilors will hear the official request to approve a syringe exchange program in Marion County in the face of what health officials are calling a growing drug crisis in the state’s largest city.

Last week, Marion County Public Health Department Director Virginia Caine declared a public health epidemic in the wake of surging Hepatitis C cases in the county. Caine said the county has seen a 1,000 percent increase in the number of cases between 2013 and 2017, a majority of which have been attributed to intravenous drug use.

One of the leading forces behind the declaration and the data set is a pilot program underway at Eskenazi Health called Project Point and funded through a grant from the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation.

The goal is to reach patients in the emergency room moments after an overdose with not only recovery options but immediate Hepatitis C and HIV testing.

“Although we knew it was a problem – folks were telling us hey I know I have Hepatitis C – again they’re not regularly folks who are being tested or regularly accessing health care,” Dr. Krista Brucker said, medical director for Project Point. “So this is an opportunity to test a really high-risk group of folks.”

The program started in 2016.

Brucker said to date in 2018 alone, Eskanazi has seen 465 overdose patients. Of those, 190 have participated in Project Point, 90 percent of whom have received testing or taken overdose kits. The program doesn’t operate overnights or on weekends.

“We’re not pushing anything on anyone,” Brucker said. “We’re just trying to meet people where they are and say ‘Hey you’re kind of in a bad spot. How can we help?’”

Now health advocates are using the data to push city-county councilors to approve a needle exchange program, alongside the stories of recovering addicts who have use similar programs in other counties across the state.

“A major impact,” a recovering addict said who asked to remain anonymous. “I was able to help others and get their trust and bring them to it because everybody was worried the police was following them. And they really wasn’t.”

A final vote will not happen at Monday’s meeting.

Before that, three public meetings are scheduled.

  • Tuesday, May 22 - 5:30 p.m.
    • City-County Building Room 260, Indianapolis
  • Thursday, May 31 - 6-8 p.m.
    • Marion County Public Health Department 1st floor conference room, Indianapolis
  • Wednesday, June 13 - 6-8 p.m.
    • Marion County Public Health Department 1st floor conference room, Indianapolis