Indiana Daily Student

Pence enacts 30-day needle exchange program

Pence declares public health emergency

By Daniel Metz

As of March 27, 81 people have tested positive for HIV since December.

There has been a legislative push to establish clean needle exchanges throughout Indiana. The source of the outbreak has been traced to drug users injecting the powerful prescription painkiller Opana.

Prior to the outbreak, there was only one needle exchange in Indiana.

Pence announced that he has overridden previous legislation to allow a temporary 30-day needle exchange in Scott County, where the majority of the cases have been reported.

Proposed legislation could create similar programs for other counties.

Senate Bill 461, authored by state Sens. Patricia Miller, R-32nd District, and Vaneta Becker, R-50th District, would allow for clean needle distribution and collection programs to be opened in counties that have a high reported incidence of newly reported cases of Hepatitis C.

Beth Meyerson, an assistant professor in applied health science at IU’s School of Public Health and co-director for the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention, said a clean needle program is a solution to the HIV problem but doesn’t think a 30-day program goes far enough.

“A 30-day needle exchange without real public health system resources is irresponsible,” Meyerson said in an interview with MSNBC. “I want to be hopeful and say, ‘Oh gee, this is great.’ As a policy watcher and analyst, I’m like, nope, 30 days means nothing for public health. Thirty days is a legislative calendar.”

She continued, “We don’t invest in the public health system. We are 37th in the country for our state per capita public health investment. If we doubled that, then we could do a lot, and not just for HIV but for everyone, including substance abuse ?treatment.”

In southern Indiana there are only three groups that actively work with policymakers to combat HIV and other STDs, including Positive Link, which works in 23 counties.

Jill Stowers, a social worker for Positive Link, has been working to fight the spread of HIV since 2001 and has been with the organization in Bloomington for about 10 years. She said she is in full support of SB 461 and its intent to open needle ?exchanges.

“There used to be more access to HIV testing and prevention and education,” Stowers said. “There are only three AIDS prevention organizations in the southern half of Indiana, and they all work great together ... but unfortunately Indiana doesn’t have the infrastructure in place to deal with this kind of ?outbreak.”

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