Marion County health leaders propose needle exchange program

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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - Marion County's public health department called for a needle exchange program Thursday.

They declared a public health emergency because of a recent spike in hepatitis C cases, and said a needle exchange program could help curb the rise in new cases and prevent a similar rise in HIV cases.

Marion County Public Health Department director Dr. Virginia A. Caine said there has been a 1,000 percent increase in the number of hepatitis C cases in Marion County from 2013 to 2017, a majority of which have been attributed to injection drug use.

"The proposed syringe exchange program is medically necessary and will save lives by reducing the transmission of hepatitis C and HIV," Dr. Caine said. "Both are growing national problems brought on by the widespread increase in opioid addiction."

Her declaration of a public health emergency is the first step under state law to be able to establish a needle exchange program. The second: get approval from the City-County Council.

Council leaders spoke at Thursday's announcement and said it has the support to pass. City-County Council President Vop Osili said the proposal will be introduced at the council's next meeting, Monday, May 21. After that, there will be three public feedback meetings:

  • City-County Building
    200 E. Washington St.
    Room 260
    Tuesday, May 22
    5:30 p.m.
  • Marion County Public Health Dept.
    3838 N. Rural St.
    1st Floor Conference Room
    Thursday, May 31
    6 p.m. - 8 p.m.
  • Marion County Public Health Dept.
    3838 N. Rural St.
    1st Floor Conference Room
    Wednesday, June 13
    6 p.m. - 8 p.m.

Initially, the program would operate as a mobile unit. Sites would be based on overdose deaths by location, residences of decedents, Indianapolis EMS use of Narcan, and recommendations from IMPD.

"I strongly support moving forward with a syringe exchange program as it will improve public health in Indianapolis and Marion County while also saving taxpayers money by greatly reducing the burdensome health care costs related to injection drug use and infectious disease," Osili said.

If it eventually passes, Marion County would become the largest in Indiana to adopt a needle exchange program.