Indiana lawmakers proposed Wednesday a new bill that would allow the state’s counties adopt needled-exchange programs whenever they are facing a serious HIV outbreak among injecting drug users. The move is a response to a recent HIV epidemic of more than 140 cases which sweeps a couple of Indiana’s southern counties.
Needle exchange programs allow injecting drug addicts to get free or buy at little cost the needles they need to inject drugs. Such programs prevent drug users to participate in needle-sharing networks which later contribute to the spread of lethal or hard-to-cure diseases such HIV or hepatitis. Worldwide these programs were effective in dodging HIV risk, although they remain very controversial.
Opponents are concerned that state-funded needle-exchange programs actually encourage drug abuse at societal and individual level because drug users have easy access to needles or syringes and they may get the wrong message. On the other hand, a WHO report showed that that was not the case, while former drug addicts lauded such programs for maybe saving their lives.
Indiana’s legislative initiative currently needs to be approved by Gov. Mike Pence to become a law.
Although Pence’s previous stance was against needle-exchange programs due to concerns that it would promote drug abuse, he said Wednesday that he was open to the new measures which he hopes would soon receive a proper legal framework that would provide health officials with the necessary resources and flexibility to start the programs as soon as possible within their communities.
Pence explained that he remained open to the initiative as long as it was designed to tackle a public health emergency. He also said that he would back needle-exchange programs until the emergency was brought under control.
According to the new bill’s provisions, local communities that face a HIV outbreak caused by intravenous drug use could get approval from state officials to launch a needle-exchange program as long as they can prove the outbreak. If the governor signs off the bill, it would be the first time Indiana allowed such an extensive program to fight further HIV infections.
The bill passed the House on an 80-19 vote, while the Senate said yes to it on a 38-11 vote. Supporters argued that the measure was absolutely necessary since the state faces its worst HIV outbreak in decades.
About 143 people living in Scott County and Jackson County have recently tested positive for HIV virus. Nearly all patients reported that they were involved in needle-sharing networks because they needed needles and syringes to inject their drug.
In March, Gov. Pence signed off another bill which allowed a limited needle-exchange program in Scott County as a measure to contain the HIV outbreak. Additionally, he signed an extension to the order last week, which allowed the program to continue one more month. Until now, more than 7,000 new needles were distributed through the program in the county.
State Representative Ed Clere expressed his support for the new measure which was designed to prevent other counties from becoming the next Scott County. On the other hand, the lawmaker acknowledged that the move was controversial and people remained divisive.
“For some this doesn’t go far enough. For some, it goes too far,”
Image Source: Reuters