May 18, 2020

Eastern Indiana County Extends Needle Exchange For A Year

The Wayne County courthouse. - FILE PHOTO: Jake Harper/Side Effects Public Media

The Wayne County courthouse.

FILE PHOTO: Jake Harper/Side Effects Public Media

RICHMOND, Ind. (AP) — An eastern Indiana county has approved a one-year extension of its long-running needle exchange program, which is aimed at reducing the spread of diseases among intravenous drug users.

Wayne County commissioners voted unanimously last week to extend the program until July 1, 2021. The exchange began in August 2016 in an effort to reduce the spread of hepatitis C tied to heroin abuse, the Palladium-Item reported.

Commissioners had renewed needle exchanges for two years in 2018, despite opposition from county prosecutor Mike Shipman.

Shipman also opposed the program's latest renewal, telling the commissioners his office had filed 190 charges of illegal possession of a syringe last year. But commissioners sided with health professionals.

The executive director of the county health department was in favor of the program’s renewal.

“I appreciate the concerns of Mike Shipman and all of our law enforcement people who contacted me about their concerns with the program. But I think it comes down to it’s an inconvenience to law enforcement and it’s life and death for the others,” Commissioner Ken Paust said.

Needle-exchange programs provide IV drug users with clean syringes to prevent needle-sharing that spreads diseases, including hepatitis and HIV.

Wayne County’s number of chronic hepatitis C cases has fallen from 187 in 2017 to 133 last year. The county has also dropped from having Indiana's sixth-highest hepatitis C cases per 100,000 residents in 2015 to ninth last year.

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