Needle Exchange Bill debated in Statehouse; many counties not on board

FRANKLIN, Ind (WISH) — The debate over the Needle Exchange Program bill continues among lawmakers. On Thursday, the senate could vote on whether or not to pass House Bill 1438. It would allow cites and counties to offer the program without prior approval from state health commissioners.

Of the 92 counties in Indiana, only nine offer the program. Johnson County is in the majority by not offering it. Just last week, police there arrested 40-year old Toby Magness. They say he had, in his truck, eight clean needles that he received through Monroe County’s Needle Exchange Program. That didn’t matter to Johnson County Prosecutor Bradley Cooper.

“It’s illegal to possess a syringe in Indiana. He may have been given them without consequences, but the second that he’s out that door and found in Johnson County, he is in violation of the law,” said Cooper.

According to Cooper, Magness also tossed out of the window a dirty syringe. He faces eight felony charges of Unlawful Possession of a Syringe.

When asked if he would change his position on the program if it showed proven benefits, Cooper said, “No! It’s a crime. If they want to change the law and make possession of a syringe to use heroin not a crime, fine. Hand them out.” He added, “Using heroin is a crime. It’s a felony to use it. It’s a felony to possess it. It’s a felony to possess the needle. So, you’re saying that they’re going to engage in criminal activity anyway, we should facilitate it?”

But the State Health Department sees it as a program that is significantly reducing the number of HIV cases. The program started in Scott County during its HIV epidemic in the spring of 2015. It was designed to offer addicts clean needles to stop them from sharing dirty ones to stop the spread of HIV, according to the department.

Officials there say their plan is working. In May of 2015 the Health Department says there were 22 cases of HIV diagnosed in just one week. A month later, after the program was implemented, that number dropped to five cases in a week.

Cooper draws his own conclusion, however, “When it’s that high of a percentage, there is no place to go but down. That does not necessarily mean that the needle exchange program has one iota effect on the HIV transmission rate. Because, everybody already had it.”

It’s an issue that has the community conflicted as well.

Kassandra Ward is a Greenwood resident, “People are going to do it either way, whether it’s a clean or dirty needle. But, I’d rather them have clean needles. Because there’s a lot of needles that are actually thrown out.”

“I think there are some that may try to abuse it and try to find loop holes to getting the needles to continue with their habit,” said Christy Russell who is also a Greenwood resident.

The Needle Exchange Bill is on the agenda for its second reading.

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