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Local Needle Exchanges Near Approval

Holcomb proposal would end requirement that state health department give green light to local programs

A bill to streamline Indiana's needle-exchange programs could go to Governor Holcomb next week.

Indiana authorized needle exchanges two years ago after heroin use sparked an HIV outbreak in Scott County. State health commissioner Jerome Adams says the law has controlled HIV and coaxed addicts into treatment by bringing them into contact with the health-care system and giving them information about rehab options. In Scott County alone, he says 150 people have entered treatment, while the county has now gone three months with no new HIV diagnoses.

Nine counties have declared health emergencies based on high HiV or hepatitis rates, allowing them to institute needle exchanges. But the law requires counties to get approval from Adams' office first.

Adams says that requirement made sense when the law first passed and the state was in "uncharted territory." He says it's now clear that the requirement amounts to a rubber stamp which only delays implementation. Holcomb has asked legislators to allow counties to institute programs on their own. A Senate committee unanimously endorsed the bill.

Attorney General Curtis Hill sharply criticized needle exchanges when the bill passed the House, but his COO Matt Light told the Senate Health Committee that Hill isn't opposing the bill -- he'd just like additional controls, including a requirement that addicts turn in old needles to get new ones.

Adams says other states have found such a requirement discourages addicts from participating. He says Indiana counties which have begun exchange programs have seen the number of improperly discarded needles drop nearly 90%.

The only outright opposition in the committee came from the Prosecuting Attorneys Council, which acknowledges public health benefits but maintains the bill encourages and normalizes drug use.

State Health Commissioner Jerome Adams (Photo: Eric Berman/WIBC)

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