Health workers stress needle exchanges still needed as Ind. bill dies

Health workers stress needle exchanges still needed as Ind. bill dies
The first Indiana needle exchange site opened in Scott County in 2015 amid an HIV outbreak of epidemic proportions. (Source: Pixabay / WAVE 3 News)

CLARK COUNTY, Ind. (WAVE) – The days for needle exchange programs in Southern Indiana could be numbered after a vote Tuesday at the statehouse.

The first site opened in Scott County in 2015 amid an HIV outbreak of epidemic proportions.

The needle exchange program is designed to help stop the spread of the virus, and Clark County officials want the public to know the services are still active.

Eric Yazel, a county health officer, said more than 500 people are exchanging needles, seeking treatment or getting tested for HIV and hepatitis under the state program. ​

"About three years ago, we saw a huge spike in our overdose deaths," Yazel told WAVE 3 News. "A lot of that was from IV drug use. The reality is that people who use IV drugs are going to use whether syringes are available or not. That's where the origin of a syringe service program came." ​

Tuesday, an Indiana bill set to extend the services past 2021 died on the floor of the Indiana Senate. ​

“We’re studying the ramifications of what happened today, and the short answer is we don’t know,” Yazel said. “But the issue is IV drug use, and the public impact is a medical issue, not a political issue. Our numbers are such that it’s still a necessity right now.” ​

Yazel said now is not the time to end services, adding the program has been working in Clark County.

He said since the program started, there has been a 30 percent decrease in skin and soft tissue infections, overdose deaths have been cut in half, and several new cases of HIV and hepatitis have been diagnosed. ​

"I hope a day comes where these programs aren't necessary, where we've made an impact," he said. "But we're a long way from that reality today."

Yazel said that the programs may have started because of the opioid epidemic, but now there’s a different problem at hand. He said people are switching over to meth, which can still be injected.

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