ANDERSON — The syringe exchange program run by Aspire Indiana Health is in limbo.

Because the Madison County commissioners have not approved an extension, Aspire Indiana Health is unable to continue the syringe exchange program.

The renewal of the program needed to be voted on by the commissioners by June 5.

The renewal has not been included on the Board of Commissioners agenda, and on June 15 they adjourned without conducting any business.

Dr. Kris Box, commissioner of the Indiana State Department of Health, was scheduled to appear at the June 15 meeting to speak in support of the local program.

Her visit was canceled when it was learned the commissioners would not be conducting any business.

Barbara Scott, president and CEO of Aspire, said in an email that the agency continues to provide all other services, including outreach, hepatitis C testing and education.

“We must refer participants to other exchange programs for the time being,” she wrote. “We can also provide education on how to clean needles.”

The needle exchange program was started in Madison County in 2015 and was initially overseen by the county’s health department.

The Madison County Council in 2017 voted that no taxpayer dollars could be used for the program, which shut down the local program.

Aspire Health Indiana took over the program in the county in 2018.

The state law authorizing the local syringe exchange program is set to expire on July 1, 2021. Legislation to remove the expiration date failed during this year’s legislative session.

“These programs are helping save the lives of vulnerable Hoosiers,” Scott said earlier this year.

Statistics provided by Aspire Indiana Health for Madison County show there were 139 new participants in 2019, with 28 new enrollees so far in 2020.

Aspire has served 207 people through the program. Aspire Indiana Health said 19% of enrollees have entered substance use treatment.

Stephenie Grimes, administrator of the Madison County Health Department, said during the last six months the health department operated the local program, the return rate of syringes was over 90%.

She said there were 33 overdose deaths in Madison County in 2018 and 55 deaths last year.

Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 765-640-4863.

Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 765-640-4863.

Senior Reporter covering Anderson and Madison County government, politics and auto racing for The Herald Bulletin. Has been working as a journalist in central Indiana since 1977.

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