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(INDIANAPOLIS) – Governor Holcomb says he’s “heartened” to see a needle-exchange bill come back to life at the statehouse.

Needle exchange programs in nine counties, including Marion County, will expire next June unless legislators allow them to continue. The Senate killed an attempt earlier this month to permanently authorize the programs. Holcomb says he’s “heartened” to see a Senate committee revive those efforts with a one-year extension. The full Senate will vote next week.

Holcomb says the first Indiana needle exchange, in Scott County, played a key role in reversing the county’s HIV outbreak five years ago. He boasts it’s now a model for other states.

Holcomb’s predecessor, Vice President Pence, implemented that program. With this week’s announcement that Pence will oversee federal efforts to combat coronavirus, critics have revisited his handling of the Scott County crisis, charging he was too slow to allow needle exchange when the outbreak hit. Holcomb says he has confidence in the federal government’s leadership on the virus, and says state health officials are talking with federal counterparts frequently. He says at the time of the outbreak, Pence’s actions were unprecedented, and praises Pence for reversing the soaring HIV infection rates.

Health officials say the needle exchanges have not only reduced the spread of infectious diseases among drug users through shared needles, but have helped hundreds of addicts gain access to drug treatment. It’s also gotten them in contact with doctors to diagnose cases of HIV and hepatitis.