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Indiana House Advances Syringe Exchange Bill

The Indiana House voted 76-26 Tuesday to approve a bill that would give counties and municipalities the authority to establish a syringe exchange program without state approval.

HB 1438 advanced out of a House committee nearly unanimously.

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.

“That alleviates some of the long wait," says Carrie Lawrence,  Director of Project Cultivate at the Rural Center for Aids/STD Prevention at Indiana University. "And when I say long wait, sometimes it’s been three months, six months, depending on if things need to be changed for the state to approve it or services need to be redesigned."

The measure is a legislative priority for Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and has bipartisan support. However, new Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill has expressed strong opposition to 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.

Lawmakers in opposition include Republican Lloyd Arnold. He says it does more harm than good.

“We’re also doing the tourniquets; we’re also giving them the cooking trays," Arnold says. "So not only that I feel like that we’re enabling.”

And Attorney General Curtis Hill has voiced the same concerns. But Bill author Republican Representative Cindy Kirchhofer disagreed with Hill’s perspective on the House floor.

“I think his preference is to attack the abuse and overuse problem by way of law enforcement," she says. "And I, on the other hand, and the colleagues on the health committee – and the governor – feels that this needs more of a public health approach.”

Indiana Public Broadcasting's Brandon Smith contributed to this report. 

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