The Lawrence County Commissioners voted Tuesday to end the county’s syringe exchange program after a year of operation.
Earlier this month, the program was suspended and required the county commissioners’ approval. Groups for and against the program spoke at the meeting. Ultimately, a motion was not carried and the program was declared null and void.
County Commissioner Dustin Gabhart chose not to support the syringe exchange program’s renewal. He says it was a difficult choice, but his decision came from community opposition and what he saw as a moral objection to the program.
“It came down to morally, they’re breaking the law. I can’t condone that,” Gabhart says. “Yes, it’s a problem. Yes, it needs to be resolved. I could not give them the tools to do it.”
The program did not receive funding from the county or state.
Lawrence County resident Jared Stancombe has worked with the Indiana Recovery Alliance, the organization which ran the syringe exchange program. He says without a syringe exchange, the county could see an increase in cases of Hepatitis C and HIV which could result in higher cost in the long-run.
“I worry that Lawrence County is going to be the next Scott County,” Stancombe says. “We’re going to see businesses shutter. We’re going to see young people like me leave.”
The Indiana Recovery Alliance also manages the Monroe County syringe exchange program. Program Director Chris Abert says the group will make resources available to anyone regardless of their county of residence.
Abert says there has been an 80 percent reduction in infectious diseases in Lawrence County since the needle exchange began.
The Madison County Council voted in August to cut off public funding for that county’s needle exchange program. Madison County health officials are looking for an outside group to resume the services.
Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill has publicly sparred with federal health officials over the effectiveness of syringe exchanges. Hill says the programs increase drug use, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the programs are “effective in reducing HIV transmission and do not increase rates of community drug use.”