Indiana Lifts Ban on Needle-Exchange Programs

By Zachary Siegel 04/07/15

Amidst the controversy surrounding the state's religious freedom law, Gov. Mike Pence did the right thing for public health.

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An HIV outbreak among intravenous drug users prompted health officials in southeastern Indiana to start a needle-exchange program. There have been around 90 cases reported, the most in Indiana’s history.

Republican Governor Mike Pence signed an emergency executive order last week in an attempt to control Indiana’s most intense HIV outbreak. The executive order suspended Indiana’s ban on needle-exchange programs for the next 30 days, but the ban has been localized to only Scott County, just 30 miles north of Louisville, Ky.

According to the News and Tribune in Jeffersonville, Ind., “Governor Pence has been clear that he does not support needle exchange as anti-drug policy on an ongoing basis, he's been equally clear about his concern over this outbreak, and has taken a critical step to end this outbreak by allowing this needle exchange to occur," said Jerome Adams, Indiana’s Health Commissioner.

Governor Pence voices his concerns about such programs despite evidence from several NIH funded studies that consistently demonstrate a 33% reduction of incidence rates in HIV cases where people participate in needle exchange programs.

The 30 day needle-exchange program is based in the Community Outreach Center located in Austin, Ind., a hotbed of where the most HIV cases have been reported. As of now, Austin has had 84 confirmed cases of HIV.

Each individual will receive one week’s worth of clean syringes, given access to free HIV screenings, hepatitis A and B vaccinations, as well as drug treatment referrals. Health Commissioner Adams reiterated that one should not feel ashamed to seek help as this is now an issue of public health.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.