(INDIANAPOLIS) – State health officials are trying to save Indiana’s needle exchange programs.
Nine counties, including Marion County, have made use of the law allowing local health departments to establish needle exchange programs to prevent addicts from spreading infections like HIV and hepatitis through dirty needles. But that law expires next June, and the Senate killed a bill three weeks ago which would have eliminated that expiration date.
Now a Senate committee has unanimously endorsed a move to extend the programs by a year. That gives state health officials time to come back next year with a proposal to authorize them permanently.
State health commissioner Kristina Box says legislators can’t afford to wait until next year to reauthorize needle exchanges, because six of the nine counties are approaching local renewal decisions. She warns county commissioners are likely to kill the programs sooner if they don’t have assurances the state will keep them going.
Box says the programs are critical to curbing infections and getting addicts into treatment. Clark County public health officer Eric Yazel says when his county began needle exchanges, hospitals immediately reported a sharp drop in opioid-related emergency room cases, while overdose deaths were cut in half.
And Yazel says because the needle exchanges bring addicts into contact with the health department, providers are better positioned to steer them to other needed health services, including diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis and HIV. He says the county’s program has made a thousand referrals to treatment programs. Yazel says national statistics indicate addicts visiting needle exchanges are five times more likely to seek treatment.
The unanimous committee vote included four senators who were part of the 27-22 vote to kill the broader extension. If they vote yes on the Senate floor next week, that would give the bill enough support to pass.
The House has heard no testimony on the extension and would have to reach an agreement on the bill in the final week of the session.