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House Committee OKs Needle Exchange Bill Despite AG’s Opposition

The Scott County temporary needle exchange has collected thousands of dirty needles.

New governor Eric Holcomb has promised to make it easier for counties to establish a syringe exchange program and a bill moving through the legislature would make that possible.

A House committee Wednesday voted 12-1 in support of HB 1438, which would allow counties or municipalities to establish a syringe exchange without getting permission from the State Health department first.

Existing law requires the state to declare a public health emergency before needle exchange programs can operate. State Health Commissioner Jerome Adams says the declarations are no longer necessary.

New Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill testified against the proposal, saying he believes statewide oversight is necessary.

But newly-appointed Executive Director for Drug Prevention, Treatment and Enforcement Jim McClelland and Indiana State Health Commissioner Jerome Adams testified with strong support for the proposal.

Hill expressed concern that needle exchanges might become distribution centers, but Adams says in Scott County, 96 percent of needles have been returned. Scott is among nine counties that have state approval for needle exchanges.

The bill maintains the health commissioner’s power to end a program and requires exchanges to stock overdose prevention drugs.

Dr. Carrie Lawrence is the Director of the Project Cultivate program, which aims to help county health departments design and implement a needle exchange.

Testifying in favor of HB 1438, Lawrence said the programs do much more than provide clean syringes. Both current law and the proposed bill stipulate that the programs must also provide drug addiction treatment and referral information and provide education and training on drug overdose response and treatment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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