Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Rural Indiana county ends syringe exchanges, with one official citing moral grounds

Lawrence County, Indiana
(Wikipedia map)
"A Southern Indiana county has become the second [in Indiana] to end its needle exchange program over concerns it enables addicts — and one county official expressed moral objections as well," Leigh Hedger reports for the The Indianapolis Star.

The Board of Commissioners in Lawrence County (population 45,000) voted last week to end the two-year-old program, which provides intravenous drug users with clean syringes and collects used ones to reduce needle sharing that can spread blood-borne diseases like HIV and hepatitis C. The opioid epidemic has led to a rise in hepatitis C. County health officials wanted to extend the plan, but county prosecutor Michelle Woodward told commissioners she couldn't support facilitating illegal drug use, the Herald-Times in Bloomington reports.

County Commissioner Rodney Fish said he objected to the law on both moral and practical grounds. NBC News reports that he quoted 2 Chronicles 7:13-14, in which God says that, if he sends a plague among his people, he will "forgive their sin and heal their land" if they turn back to him. Fish told Maggie Fox of NBC that his practical objections stemmed from his heavy research with community health professionals, and "Few, if any of the health care professionals that I personally spoke with believe that the needle exchange program was an effective way of getting people into treatment programs." He said he could support a hospital-based program, though.

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Johns Hopkins University, the World Health Organization and former Indiana State Health Commissioner-now U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams, however, back evidence that shows the programs are a proven way to prevent disease," the Star reports. Christopher Abert of the Indiana Recovery Alliance was more blunt: "People are going to die" without the needle exchange, he told NBC. The program has contributed to a 50 percent drop in hepatitis C cases in Lawrence County this year, he says, and the grant-funded program costs the county nothing. Getting rid of the needle exchange could trigger long-term costs for the county and its citizens, though. Preventing one case of HIV saves $450,000 in lifetime costs, and preventing one hepatitis C case saves $90,000, he says.

Madison County, Indiana, ended its syringe exchange this month after complaints from a prosecutor about "dirty needles left in public places," reports Haley Bull of WXIN-TV in Indianapolis. The health department agreed to make only one-for-one exchanges in August, but that apparently did not satisfy local officials in the county of 130,000 (seat: Anderson) northeast of Indianapolis.

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