Madison County is fortunate that its needle exchange program will be unaffected this year by the recent defeat of legislation in the state Senate to eliminate the 2021 sunset clause on state-approved needle exchange programs.
These harm-reduction programs provide sterile syringes to drug users and dispose of used syringes. The goal is to prevent the spread of infections such as HIV and hepatitis.
Madison County’s health department managed the program from 2015 until 2017, when the County Council voted that no taxpayer dollars could be spent on the program. Since 2018, the needle exchange has been managed by Aspire Health Indiana.
Critics of these programs argue that providing syringes enables drug use, sometimes at taxpayer expense.
However, from a harm reduction standpoint, the program makes sense, as it doesn’t start and stop with the provision of a clean needle.
Julie Foltz, director of the Madison County Harm Reduction Program, said, “Participants receive education, testing for HIV and hepatitis C, onsite wound care, referrals to primary and behavioral health care and connection with other community resources.”
By protecting the drug addict from infections, we are also protecting the people with whom the drug addict may be in close contact, including spouses, partners and children. Addiction is a problem that often affects entire families, and we don’t want to wait until the addict stops using before we provide aid.
If addicts continue to share needles and put themselves at risk for more serious medical problems, taxpayers will have to foot some of the bill to treat these problems as well.
While needle exchange programs don’t solve the problem of addiction, they certainly help to manage the problem before it becomes too late.