INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
A proposal that would give counties and municipalities control over creating
needle-exchange programs in their communities advanced through a legislative
committee Wednesday, despite opposition from new Attorney General Curtis
The measure, backed
by Gov. Eric Holcomb and Health Commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams, would remove
the requirement that the state declare an emergency before a needle-exchange
program’s creation and give local governments more freedom in deciding to
establish them. The emergency declarations were originally mandated to
“reassure” the public of the need for a needle exchange, Adams said, but are
no longer are necessary.
The House Public
Health Committee voted 11-1 Wednesday to approve the proposal.
are aimed at reducing needle-sharing and the spread of infectious diseases
by providing people with clean syringes and collecting used ones. Though
Indiana originally prohibited such programs, the state’s worst-ever HIV
outbreak in Scott County, which primarily affected intravenous drug users,
prompted lawmakers in 2015 to allow them with state approval.
They have been
effective in stemming the outbreak, reducing the transmission of HIV in
Scott County, Adams said.
While Adams and Jim
McClelland, Holcomb’s newly created executive director for drug prevention,
treatment and enforcement, testified in favor of the bill, Hill expressed
concerns. He suggested existing needle exchanges have “morphed into a
distribution program” that no longer require one-to-one exchanges of a dirty
needle for a clean one. Such “net increase” in needles, he said, leads to a
greater risk of exposure to the infectious diseases the exchanges were
designed to prevent.
When asked by
Democratic Rep. Charlie Brown whether he had data or documentation of the
disappearance of one-on-one exchanges, Hill said he didn’t have that
information and called for a study to determine how pervasive the situation
is. Adams later testified that in Scott County, 96 percent of needles have
In a press release
sent out after his statement, Hill stated the bill would only serve to
“further trap” addicts in the “vicious cycle of opioid addiction,” but
provided no statistics as evidence.
Scott is one of
nine counties in Indiana with state approval for needle exchanges, and 15
others are working toward creating their own programs. The exchanges, Adams
said, do not enable drug use, and instead give communities the tools they
need to stop disease transmission.
In addition to
granting local control, the measure authored by Republican Rep. Cindy
Kirchhofer maintains the health commissioner’s power to end a program and
allows counties that feel more comfortable establishing needle-exchange
programs with the state’s emergency declaration to continue to go through
the originally established pathway. It also requires exchanges to stock
overdose prevention drugs.
The state’s drug
issues are not going to be resolved by inaction, McClelland said.
“These programs are
not a complete solution, there’s no question about that,” he said. “But they
are a vital part of an overall effort to substantially reduce the magnitude
of the scourge that every day is destroying lives, devastating families and
damaging communities in many parts of our state.”