INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Gov. Mike Pence has changed his mind when it comes to expanding needle exchanges across Indiana in an effort to stop the spread of HIV and other infectious diseases.
Pence, who authorized a needle exchange in Scott County where nearly 140 people have been infected, had previously said he would veto a broad-based needle exchange bill.
State health officials have said the majority of cases in Scott and Jackson counties have been linked to drug users sharing needles while shooting up the painkiller, Opana.
Today in an interview with I-Team 8, Gov. Pence made an about face.
When asked why he changed his mind, Pence gave a minute-long response.
From my perspective, the focus needs to be on health emergencies. I have throughout my career not supported needle exchanges as anti-drug policies. But with regard to addressing an epidemic, which is what we’ve seen in Scott County, which is unprecedented in any rural part of the country. I was prepared to support that through executive action. And so long as that legislation is focused and targeted, provided strong supervision from the Indiana Department of State Health and really makes an effort to provide resources in the event of a public health emergency I am prepared to support it.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ed Clere, (R-New Albany), favorably passed a conference committee Wednesday, clearing the path for floor votes in both chambers on the final night of legislative session. As of news time, a floor vote had not occurred.
The bill would allow local health departments, municipalities and even non-profit organizations to operate a needle exchange program, so long as:
- There is an epidemic of HIV or hepatitis C
- The primary mode of transmission is through intravenous drug use
- They hold public hearing and receive approval for a public health emergency from the state health commissioner.
Under the language of the bill, police would not be able to target users enrolled in a needle exchange program, nor could they use that enroll as probable cause for a drug arrest.
The bill also includes a sunset provision, meaning this section of Indiana law will expire in 2019.
Rep. Clere previously told I-Team 8 he was not happy with the sunset provision, but was willing to make that concession if it meant providing a resource to help stop the spread of an infectious disease.