House committee wants to loosen laws on needle exchange programs; attorney general not completely on board

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– Some members of the Indiana House Public Health committee says it’s time to extend needle exchange programs across the state and reduce state involvement. Even republican Governor Eric Holcomb is on board with the plan. However, the new attorney general says to pump the brakes.

Current law says your county can only have a needle exchange program if there’s an emergency like an HIV outbreak and the state health commissioner has to approve the program. House Bill 1438 would allow a county or municipality to have a needle exchange program if they see fit with limited state involvement.

It’s an effort to stop the spread of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis-C among drug users. The most notable needle exchange program was in Scott county when the area saw about 175 HIV cases from December 2014 to July 2015. The program allows drug users to exchange dirty needles for new ones.

“The reality is that the exchange programs have actually morphed into a distribution program where the exchange is not necessary in order to get the needles. What ends up happening is you get a net increase in the number of needles,” Attorney General Curtis Hill said.

Hill isn’t fully on board with the bill that would allow counties to set up a program on their own without the state declaring a public health emergency.

“So I would caution us in terms of just going out and spreading this all over the state of Indiana. I don’t want to see anybody die from an overdose in the state of Indiana but I surely don’t want to see our sons and daughters dying from an overdose in Indiana with a needle that was provided by the state of Indiana,” Hill said.

“First of all, the State of Indiana does not give out needles. The needles are supplied locally through non-profit groups,” said State Health Commissioner, Dr. Jerome Adams.

Dr. Adams says the programs have proved to be successful and in Scott county 96 percent of the needles that go out come back in. He says the program connects drug users to services to help them get clean. And since the one on one work is happening in their community, he says the local governments should be in charge.

“Really what we’re trying to do is remove the State from the equation in places where it’s hindering the administration of syringe exchange programs while retaining state involvement where it’s helpful such as technical support,” Dr. Adams said.

The bill passed the committee 11 to 1. It’s now eligible for a second reading and amendments. Attorney General Hill says he wants to work with the committee to create a more comprehensive needle exchange program.

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