Needle exchange bill passes in House and Senate, heads to Pence for signature

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence holds a news conference at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 26, 2015. Pence has declared a public health emergency in response to the HIV epidemic in Scott County. Seventy two cases of HIV have been confirmed in the southern Indiana county. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The needle exchange bill passed both chambers of the Indiana General Assembly, per the bill sponsor Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany.

In an interview on Wednesday with I-Team 8, Gov. Mike Pence indicated he would support the legislation, a drastic change from his position just a month ago.

The number of infected from the outbreak in Scott and Jackson counties is 142, with 138 confirmed and the remainder are preliminary cases, per state health officials.

NeedlesThe majority of the cases from the southern Indiana outbreak stem from intravenous drug use. Advocates interviewed by I-Team 8 claim there is scientific evidence that needle exchanges work to quell the spread of HIV and other infectious diseases.

Pence said he would support this “focused and targeted approach” that would target a health emergency.

The bill will allow local health departments, cities and non-profits the ability to operate a needle exchange if there is an epidemic of HIV or hepatitis C.

Before that occurs, they would have to hold a public hearing and ask the state health commissioner to declare a public health emergency. The bill also precludes officers from arresting people enrolled in a needle exchange or using their enrollment as probable cause in a criminal investigation.

While it does not restrict the number of needles distributed, it does expire in 2019, which Clere previously said he was “concerned about.”

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