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Policy Expert Weighs in on Indiana Syringe Exchange

PHOTO: Federal and state leaders are working to combat the HIV epidemic in southern Indiana. Some policy experts say syringe exchanges reduce the spread of infectious diseases and should be made accessible statewide on a permanent basis. Photo credit: Nathan F/Flickr.
PHOTO: Federal and state leaders are working to combat the HIV epidemic in southern Indiana. Some policy experts say syringe exchanges reduce the spread of infectious diseases and should be made accessible statewide on a permanent basis. Photo credit: Nathan F/Flickr.
April 30, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS – A temporary syringe exchange program is in place in Scott County to combat the HIV epidemic in Indiana, but some policy experts say it's not a long-term solution.

Most of the 143 confirmed HIV cases are believed to be connected to injection drug use.

Bill Piper, director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance, says to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and other infectious diseases, lawmakers need to make syringe exchanges permanent.

"The biggest barrier to syringe-exchange programs is politicians putting ideology above science,” he points out. “There's decades of research that shows syringe-exchange programs reduce the spread of infectious diseases without increasing drug use."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that syringe-exchange programs lower the incidence of HIV/AIDS among people who inject drugs by 80 percent. But the U.S. prohibits states from using federal drug-prevention money on sterile syringe access programs.

The federal funding ban on syringe programs was established in 1988, repealed by the Democratic-controlled Congress in 2009, and reinstated in 2011 by the Republican-controlled Congress. But Piper says bipartisan support is building to do away with it.

"Congress really needs to lift this ban because states should be allowed to use their prevention money on what works,” he stresses. “And lifting the ban wouldn't cost any money because states are already getting the money so it's just a question of whether or not they can use the money for something effective or not. "

While allowing the temporary exchange program in Scott County to continue through May 24, Gov. Mike Pence has said he is opposed to creating a permanent statewide needle exchange.

According to state leaders, more than 160 people are enrolled in the program and more than 7,000 clean needles have been distributed.


Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IN