INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
A bill that would let Indiana counties and municipalities create their own
needle-exchange programs is headed to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, who is
expected to sign it.
The state Senate
approved the measure Thursday by a 32-16 vote after lengthy discussion about
needle exchanges, which aim to reduce the spread of infectious diseases by
providing people with clean syringes and discouraging needle sharing.
Indiana began to
allow the exchanges in 2015, but only with state approval, after the state’s
worst-ever HIV outbreak, which was centered in Scott County in the south of
the state. The new bill would remove that requirement, streamlining the
process and giving local governments more freedom to decide whether to
create their own exchanges.
have found that such programs cut down transmission of HIV and do not cause
increases in drug use.
delivered impassioned speeches and, ultimately, 16 Republicans voted against
it, citing concerns that it would encourage or enable use of intravenous
“To me, I just
truly don’t understand this movement, which I believe encourages drug use,”
said Republican Sen. Erin Houchin of Salem. “What we’re doing with this
legislation is saying the state is sanctioning, the state is saying that
this is OK. That drug use is OK.”
Houchin and a few
other senators voiced frustration that no amendments were considered on the
floor. Holcomb said last week that he wanted the bill to advance without
Some of the
proposed amendments would have required a one-for-one needle exchange or
asked for more reporting of drug-related crimes.
Another would have
restricted exchanges to providing only needles - a response to concerns over
exchanges providing other additional materials, such as cookpots, cotton
filters, pure water vials and antibiotic.
In addition to
granting local control, the measure authored by Republican Rep. Cindy
Kirhhofer would maintain the health commissioner’s power to end a program.
It also would require exchanges to stock overdose prevention drugs.
In testimony before
a committee in the House, Health Commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams said the
state’s approval, in the form of an emergency declaration, was originally
mandated to “reassure” the public of the need for an exchange, but that they
are no longer necessary.
Counties that feel
more comfortable establishing needle-exchange programs with the emergency
declaration could still continue to go through the originally established
pathway if they chose to under the Beech Grove lawmaker’s bill.
The bill’s Senate
sponsor Sen. Jim Merritt Jr. said that when conversations about the bill
began, he didn’t want to author it “because it’s very difficult to
“Somebody used the
word counterintuitive, and that’s what it is. But it works,” the
Indianapolis Republican said. “This is about health care. It’s about HIV.
It’s about hep C."