Indiana lawmakers debate extending needle exchange programs

Politics

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Needle exchange programs are set to expire unless Indiana lawmakers choose to save them.

A proposal to extend syringe services died earlier this session, but it was revived in the form of amendments to other bills.

The Marion County Syringe Exchange Program is one of nine in the state. It has been running for about a year now. It is up for renewal in June, but if the state doesn’t expand the program before then, that could limit the renewal date.

Program manager Madison Weintraut said the program was off to a slow start but has picked up recently.

“Especially in the last few months, we’ve seen a big uptick in the number of participants. We have a lot of people utilizing our wrap around services,” said Weintraut.

It now has about 300 participants and has distributed about 58,000 clean needles.

“We actually have a return rate of 126% with our syringes,” said Weintraut.

But right as the program sees success, it faces the possibility of being shut down. Lawmakers are deciding whether to allow needle exchanges after 2021.

“I generally support the idea for medical reasons, absolutely 100 percent,” said State Rep. Terry Goodin.

He is from Scott County, home of a nationally recognized HIV crisis in 2015. It’s one reason Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb says he was pleased to see an extension being considered this session.

“Because that played a really positive factor in turning those numbers, bringing those numbers down in Scott County,” said Holcomb.

Still, Rep. Goodin isn’t sure about the language being considered right now.

“One word in an amendment or one word in a bill could change the entire meaning of the bill,” said Goodin. “So, I don’t want to make a commitment on where I’m going to be on that.”

Though there is still time to perfect the language next year, program leaders would like something passed now.

“For every one dollar spent on syringe services, up to $7.58 is saved in HIV treatment cost alone,” said Weintraut.

If lawmakers don’t extend the program, the Marion County Mobile Unit would still exist. They just wouldn’t be allowed to handout needles. They would provide testing and other harm reduction products.

We will continue following the amendments and update progress.

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