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Needle Exchange Bill Heads To Holcomb After Senate OK

A bill Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb supports that would give local governments control over creating needle-exchange programs is headed to his desk.

The Indiana Senate approved the measure 32-16 on Thursday. Needle exchanges aim to reduce the spread of infectious diseases by providing people with clean syringes.

The state approved its first needle exchange in 2015 after a serious HIV epidemic, fueled by intravenous drug use, broke out in downstate Scott County.

"I know if it's up to local representatives, they will have a boatload of people in those meetings saying, 'don't do this.'"

Advocates of county approval, including State Health Commissioner Jerome Adams, say the bill eliminates a time-wasting step, and that local governments know best the health needs of their counties.

But other lawmakers said the law might make people less likely to set up the programs.

Sen. Erin Houchin (R-Salem), who says she was “somewhat reluctant” to speak against the bill, calls her constituents less-than-enthusiastic about exchanges

“I actually think this legislation, as it’s written, will result in less exchanges, because we are giving authority at the local level, and I know if it’s up to local representatives, they will have a boatload of people in these meetings saying ‘don’t do this,’” Houchin says.

Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg), who testified against the bill, referred to its latest fiscal note that says county approval would reduce Commissioner Adams’ work load.

“Probably eight requests in two years isn’t a tremendous number,” Leising says, referring to the number of counties that have received state approval for SEPs. “But if he is overloaded with requests, then certainly we need to make certain he can hire someone to help him with it.”

But Adams himself has said the bill is about eliminating a superfluous step in the process, and that county programs can still be approved in the original way, through the state.

Leising was one of several senators alarmed by the revelation during a Senate committee meeting last month some syringe services programs distribute more than needles, including cotton wipes, and—most controversially—sterile cookers. Leising has referred to such kits as “starter packs” for drug use, and says she doesn’t feel comfortable making it easier for county governments to make them available.

Sen. Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis) says the kits may seem counter-intuitive, but they serve syringe exchange programs’ overall purpose.

“By providing a clean needles, users will not share needles and further spread the disease,” Breaux says. “By providing cookers, a user will not dip the clean needle into an infected cooker.”

Governor Eric Holcomb has expressed support for the bill.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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