ANDERSON — In front of a full council chambers the Madison County Council tabled for one month a vote on a proposed ordinance to eliminate funding or donations for the county’s needle exchange program.
The County Council passed a motion Tuesday night to introduce an ordinance requested by Councilman Brent Holland to end the funding and effectively eliminate the 2-year-old program.
The proposed ordinance could not be voted on because there would not be a unanimous vote. The motion approved allows for the obtaining of a second opinion on the legality of the proposed ordinance.
The proposed ordinance states no money from grants or donations or monetary value can be used to fund the syringe exchange program. It would prohibit the Madison County Health Department from purchasing syringes with donated money or to accept the donation of syringes for the program.
Council President Steve Sumner said the council will vote on the ordinance at the Aug. 8 meeting.
The council was clearly divided on the issue with several motions being proposed, including one by Councilman Mike Gaskill to not introduce the ordinance but allow Holland to get a second opinion on the legality.
Councilwoman Lisa Hobbs and Councilman Clayton Whitson both said the council was exceeding its authority.
Hobbs said it was the job of the Madison County commissioners to approve the program.
“We’re overstepping our boundaries,” she said.
Whitson said only the Indiana state health commissioner can terminate the program.
He said Holland made it clear he wants to end the program.
“I want to end the funding for the program,” Holland replied.
Whitson said the council was usurping the power from the commissioners.
Following the official action the council allowed those for and against the program to comment for 20 minutes.
Former State Health Commissioner Dr. Bill VanNess said the evidence shows the needle exchange program decreases the number of hepatitis C and HIV cases. He said treatment of one hepatitis C case costs taxpayers $58,000.
“Follow the evidence,” VanNess said. “The program doesn’t increase or decrease drug use. It decreases disease.”
Local resident Randy Willis asked why the council members were smarter than those in the other eight counties with needle exchange programs.
A nurse from Community Hospital Anderson said most drug users don’t know that they have hepatitis C and that the disease is spread through shared needles.
Dr. Joan Duwve, chief medical officer with the Indiana State Department of Health, said opiate addiction is present in Madison County.
In Scott County, where the needle exchange program was started, there has been a decrease in the diagnosis of hepatitis C and HIV, Duwve said.
“There will be millions of dollars spent on health care if the program ends,” Duwve said.
State Rep. Terri Austin of Anderson provided council members a copy of the Governor’s Commission on Drug Abuse report that provides a framework on how to spend valuable resources and get the best return on taxpayer dollars.
“There has been extended debate in the General Assembly and the research won out,” she said.
“I know this is a difficult decision. We don’t want an epidemic in Madison County and have the federal or state government come in and run the program,” she said. “Keep local control.”
Opponent Dave Lemons said the county shouldn’t provide the needles for the drug users. He said the needles are being found throughout Anderson.
Another opponent said the benefits of the program don’t outweigh the consequences of the program with the supplying of needles.