Legislation that would allow needle exchanges in some Indiana counties cleared the House Public Health Committee on Monday.
Last week, Gov. Mike Pence declared a public health emergency in Scott County, which has seen about 80 new HIV cases in just the last few months. Though Pence has allowed a needle exchange to operate in the county for 30 days, he has maintained his opposition to allowing needle exchanges statewide.
By a vote of ten to two, the committee approved needle exchanges in counties with the highest rates of Hepatitis C infection. Hepatitis C can be an indicator of injection drug use.
Needle exchanges allow injection drug users to trade in their dirty needles for clean ones, and have been shown to reduce the spread of infections like HIV.
Republican Rep. Ed Clere initially pushed to allow needle exchanges in all 92 counties. But in response to concerns from other lawmakers, and a veto threat from Gov. Pence, Clere cut the number in half.
“I think allowing needle exchange makes sense but if there’s a desire to limit it, then I can go along with that, as long as we recognize that there are areas of the state that are at higher risk than others for developing a similar outbreak. “
Joey Fox, legislative director for the State Department of Health, said that Gov. Pence was willing to allow needle exchanges in response to the crisis. But he still hasn’t budged on letting exchanges operate elsewhere, or beyond the emergency period.