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Monroe Co. Health Department Seeking Renewal Of Needle Exchange

Syringe exchange programs provide clean needles to people who inject drugs with the goal of limiting needle sharing, which can spread HIV and Hepatitis C.

Photo: Steve Burns (WFIU/WTIU News)

Syringe exchange programs provide clean needles to people who inject drugs with the goal of limiting needle sharing, which can spread HIV and Hepatitis C.

A week after the commissioners of neighboring Lawrence County decided to discontinue their needle exchange program, the health department in Monroe County is requesting renewal for its exchange.

The Monroe County Commissioners will vote on whether to renew a two-year contract for the program. County Commissioner Amanda Barge supports the proposal and believes her fellow commissioners will approve it.

“I’m pretty confident that they’re going to support it because they have in the past, and we haven’t had any real feedback in terms of people not wanting it to be in our community,” Barge says.

Barge spoke at the Lawrence County Commissioner’s meeting last week to encourage a partnership between the two counties. The Monroe County program is run by the Indiana Recovery Alliance, the same organization that ran the exchange in Lawrence County.

IRA Program Director Chris Abert says anyone can use the Monroe County program’s services, regardless of county of residence. However, there remains no clear legal protections for participants of needle exchanges; it falls to the discretion of law enforcement and prosecutors. Their opinions on the exchanges and the prosecution of participants can vary from county to county.

“Unfortunately, leaving it to the discretion of prosecutors allows for prosecutors in other counties to vocalize against those programs,” Abert says.

The Monroe County Commissioners will decide the fate of their needle exchange program by the end of the year.

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