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Monday, April 20, 2015

Ind. Gov't. - More on: Needle exchange program bill in conference committee

Updating this morning's post on the Conference Committee meeting on SB 461, Nicki Kelly of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette has coverage of the meeting, including:

INDIANAPOLIS - A southern Indiana HIV epidemic has spurred lawmakers to consider a controversial needle exchange program in counties that might have high intravenous drug use.

The House inserted language into Senate Bill 461 that would allow dozens of Indiana counties with the highest rate-per-population of hepatitis C to establish their own needle exchange programs.

Wabash County is the only area county in the bottom two categories. Hepatitis C is often a key indicator of HIV status.

But the Senate hasn't heard any testimony on the topic since it arose late in the session. No state money would be involved in the exchange program but legislators would need to give legal authority.

Sen. Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis, conducted a hearing Monday to get more information on both the public health and public safety issues involved.

"I'm open," she said. "Indiana is in a terrible position."

But she noted she would want some changes, including a two-year sunset date on any program with a study on effectiveness. And Miller is concerned with drug addicts leaving the needles in public places so there might be a requirement of having to turn needles in to get new ones. * * *

Several people testified that a needle exchange program is good policy against the spread of infectious disease through the use of dirty needles. In Scott County the drug of choice was pain medication Opana but Indiana is also seeing a rise in heroin, and methamphetamine continues to be rampant.

But several members of the conference committee reviewing the legislation said the program isn't focused on substance abuse treatment.

"My concern is this isn't going to reduce any drug use," said Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne.

Dr. Beth Meyerson, applied health science professor at Indiana University School of Public Health in Bloomington, said the primary goal of needle exchange is to reduce the spread of infectious disease.

Dr. Shane Avery, a Scott County family doctor, urged the committee to pass a sustained effort - not short-term - and also said HIV testing needs to be done in additional counties because it will eventually spread.

"If the Indiana General Assembly and Gov. Mike Pence fail to act, God have mercy on us," he said.

David Powell, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, was the only person to speak against expanding the needle exchange program. He urged lawmakers to wait until more data is obtained from Scott County.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 20, 2015 04:38 PM
Posted to Indiana Government