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Healthcare, Recovery Workers Host Town Hall On Scott County Syringe Service Program

Scott County health administrator Michelle Matern

Scott County health administrator Michelle Matern speaks to reporters before Tuesday's town hall. Phil Stucky (left) and Dr. William Cooke (right) watch. (Mitch Legan, WTIU/WFIU News)

The clock is ticking on Scott County’s syringe service program (SSP), and advocates are upping efforts to promote it.

A coalition of healthcare, recovery workers and concerned citizens hosted a town hall in Scottsburg Tuesday to educate and answer questions about the SSP.

Six years ago, Scott County was the epicenter of an HIV outbreak spurred by intravenous drug use. Its syringe service program is credited with getting it under control and is now seen as the national model for how an SSP should work.

Now, new HIV cases are are the lowest in years. But the county commissioners feel it might be time to end the program.

READ MORE: Credited With Slowing The HIV Outbreak, Scott County’s Needle Exchange Now In Jeopardy

As the only practicing doctor in Scott County in 2015, Dr. William Cooke has championed the county’s SSP since its inception. He implored the commissioners to keep the program running.

“The syringe service program is the number one tool to decrease the spread of HIV and hepatitis C,” he said. “The commissioners partnered with us six years ago, they remained partners with us over the last six years. And we invite them to continue to partner with us to decrease the spread of HIV.”

At the height of the 2015 outbreak, Scott saw 22 new cases of HIV in a week. In all of 2020, the county had just one.

Phil Stucky is in long-term recovery himself and is now executive director of THRIVE Recovery Community Organization in Scottsburg. He praised the SSP for doing more than just providing clean needles – of 1,885 people who reached out to THRIVE for help last year, over a quarter of them were referred there by the county’s SSP.

County health administrator Michelle Matern said that’s why they no longer call the program a needle exchange:

“People (who use intravenous drugs) trust us. We give them access to healthcare and be a friend when they need it. And so, whenever they need something in life, like reaching out for recovery, they know where to turn.”

John Lizenby was the only county commissioner present at Tuesday’s event. He said he expected the commissioners to vote on the program during their meeting Wednesday, June 2.

Have a story idea? Find Mitch on Twitter @ByMitchLegan or email him at mitlegan@iu.edu.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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