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Indy Needle Exchange to Begin Next Friday

Program will begin with twice-weekly appearances on near eastside

(INDIANAPOLIS) - Indy’s first needle exchange program will begin next Friday.

A Marion County Health Department van will visit the near eastside twice a week, spending one day at the Damien Center and one at Brookside Community Church. The van will be unmarked so addicts don't feel branded in visiting to request clean needles. Once the program's established, the department plans to talk to neighborhood associations across the city about expanding the effort.

Marion County health director Virginia Caine says the program's focus isn't really on drug use, but on controlling infections diseases spread by dirty needles, from hepatitis to H-I-V. She says the needle exchange connects addicts to the health care system, allowing workers to test them for H-I-V and give them information about treatment programs. State health commissioner Kristina Box says addicts who take part in the needle exchanges are five times more likely to seek treatment.

The City-County Council approved the program last June, but the health department needed to line up private grant money to fund it. Program manager Madison Weintraub says the effort will cost a half-million dollars the first year, funded primarily by the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation. She says no one's sure how many people will use the program, but says Allen County, at a third of Marion County's size, had 270 clients the first year.

Dirty needles caused an HIV outbreak which ravaged Scott County four years ago. Box says it was a needle exchange program which brought it under control.

(Photo: Eric Berman/WIBC)

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