City Council Accused of Cutting Needle Program Due To Religious Beliefs

By Victoria Kim 10/27/17

“People are relying on their own personal flavor of Christianity as the basis for canceling this program,” said one harm reduction advocate.

Supplies from the Fayette County needle exchange program
Supplies from the Fayette County needle exchange program Photo via YouTube

Harm reduction advocates seemingly face an uphill battle with needle exchange in Indiana. 

According to Chris Abert of the Indiana Recovery Alliance, Lawrence County is the second in the state, after Madison County, where officials have decided to pull support for its needle exchange program. 

Harm reduction advocates like Abert say it’s a dangerous move. Back in 2015, then-Governor Mike Pence reversed the state’s ban on needle exchange in a desperate move to alleviate a bad HIV outbreak throughout Indiana. But as NBC News reports, some counties are now working to get rid of needle exchange once again.

Local harm reduction advocates, who point to evidence that needle exchange programs save lives, accuse the Lawrence County officials who voted down its program of putting their Christian beliefs before hard evidence.

“People are relying on their own personal flavor of Christianity as the basis for canceling this program,” Abert told NBC News.

Rodney Fish, one of the opposing council members, said he’s morally opposed to needle exchange. He reportedly quoted a Bible verse preceding the vote. “It was a moral issue with me. I had severe reservations that were going to keep me from approving that motion,” he said. “I did not approach this decision lightly. I gave it a great deal of thought and prayer. My conclusion was that I could not support this program and be true to my principles and my beliefs.” 

The council member told NBC News that few health professionals he discussed the issue with actually supported the programs or thought they were effective.

But those in favor of needle exchange programs argue that it saves lives and reduces the transmission of HIV and hepatitis C.

According to a May 2017 report by the CDC, new hepatitis C cases have gone up 294% from 2010-2015—with the majority of new cases popping up among “young persons who inject drugs.”

The report suggested that public health initiatives like needle exchange could reduce HCV transmission. “To promote HCV prevention, state laws can facilitate access to clean injection equipment, and other services for persons who inject drugs and thereby be an effective tool to reduce the risk for transmission and stop the increasing incidence of HCV infection in communities, particularly those most affected by the nation's current opioid epidemic,” the report read.

Even Indiana’s former health commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams, who was appointed U.S. Surgeon General in September, supports needle exchange. According to NBC News, Adams was instrumental in persuading Pence to reverse the ban on needle exchange. 

“No matter how uncomfortable syringe service programs make us, they are proven to save lives, both by preventing the spread of diseases like HIV and hepatitis C and by connecting people to treatment that can put them on a path to recovery,” Adams wrote in a June blog post.

As for that Bible verse that Rodney Fish quoted to the council members? Chronicles, chapter 7: verse 13-14:

“If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people; If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr