Monroe County health officials are exploring whether to begin operating a needle exchange program. The news follows the implementation of needle exchange programs in Scott and Madison counties earlier this year. Indiana State Department of Health data shows the number of reported Hepatitis C cases in Monroe County increased by 55% from 2009 to 2014. Health officials are also concerned by an increase in heroin overdoses. Indiana began allowing needle exchanges for the first time this year in response to the HIV outbreak in Scott County. Monroe County Health Department Administrator Penny Caudill explains what Monroe County must do before they can implement a needle exchange program.
“What happened with, of course, Southern Indiana, there was Governor’s Quarter, and then there was state legislation that was changed that allows local health departments to request a syringe access or needle exchange program. And the law outlines what has to happen. So you’ve got to show that you have- they refer to it as an epidemic- but you have to have an increase, a significant rise in cases that are related to injection drug use. And then, that declaration has to be made by your health officer, the county commissioners have to have a public hearing and vote to approve that and move it forward. Then, if that happens, it goes to the state health commissioner with additional information. So you’ve got to say, this is essentially how we think we could address this issue. And then the state health commissioner can approve it, they can deny it, or they can ask for additional information. And then, if they approve it, then it comes back to the county and they can move forward with initiating those plans and building that out more.”
Studies have shown needle exchange programs help reduce the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C. If Monroe County’s program is approved, there will still be obstacles. Current laws bar the use of state or federal money to fund needle exchange programs.
“You know, in terms of thinking about what other counties are doing and what kind of best practices are out there, certainly there may be foundation money, so private monies that might be available to help. There may be in-kind services that could be provided, but that is certainly a big piece of the puzzle that each county will have to figure out. Can we put some local dollars to this? And where might those come from? What about partnerships? So we all have to work together to come up with solutions and look at the possibilities.”
Caudill says health officials are still compiling data to determine whether the pursue a needle exchange program.