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The Communicator NEWS & POLITICS

Needle Exchange Program Proposal Announced

Written by: Communicator StaffFebruary 17, 2016

By: Josie Nichols

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, along with a group of first responders and health experts, gathered in Citizens Square on Feb. 12 to present the case for implementing a needle exchange program in Allen County to Commissioners Nelson Peters and Therese Brown.

A public hearing on the proposal will take place within the next two weeks, followed by a final vote.

The needle exchange program would provide means for IV drug users to discard used needles and obtain clean ones at no cost. This move would help to stem the spread of bloodborne pathogens such as HIV and hepatitis B and C by discouraging needle-sharing among users.

Space for the program would be provided by Northeast Indiana Positive Resource Connection, an organization for people with HIV. The needle exchange program would also provide users access to addiction counseling resources.

Funds to support the program would not come from Allen County taxpayers but from grants and resources from the state health department, according to the Allen County Department of Health.

Allen County would not be the first county in the state to implement a needle exchange program. Scott, Madison and Fayette counties have instituted similar programs.

Heroin use has been on the rise all over the state for the past several years. Within the last year, Allen County has seen an increase in deaths, emergency room visits and violence associated with heroin use.

Incidences of hepatitis C have also been increasing, with 395 new cases of hepatitis C reported by the Allen County Department of Health in 2015, an increase of 60 percent.

They also reported that instances of HIV infection have increased, with nearly 9 percent of 2015 cases attributable to IV drug use.

“This is something that affects the entire community,” Allen County Health Commissioner Deborah McMahan said in an interview with Wane TV. “We wanted people to understand that …it’s still a big issue and it will be even bigger when these people start requiring medical care.”

The issue of disease transmission from needles is not one that only affects IV drug users. First responders, such as paramedics and police personnel, are directly at risk for contracting these pathogens in the line of duty.

Kevin Hunter, captain of the Fort Wayne Police Department, supports the push for a needle exchange program, stating in an interview with Wane TV that, “by turning in those dirty needles, we would lessen the exposure to law enforcement, paramedics and firefighters by getting those dirty needles off the streets.”