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Syringe exchange gets strong support

By BOB HANSEN - bhansen@newsexaminer.com

A decision about whether to continue the Fayette County needle exchange will likely be made Thursday afternoon, after county officials met with a number of public health professionals who encouraged its continuance.

The needle exchange – formally called a syringe service program – began here in mid-2017 after the county experienced a high number of deaths from drug overdoses and related health issues. County health officer Dr. Wayne White declared it an opioid emergency and the Board of Commissioners approved starting the program. It is one of nine county programs in Indiana.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Gary Naylor, president of the Board of Commissioners, said he would favor continuing the program as long as it has a solid structure and is accountable. The commissioners have scheduled a special meeting at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in which they plan to vote on whether to continue the program.

Naylor made his comment near the end of a 90-minute meeting in which officials from the Indiana State Department of Health, Indiana University Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention, Meridian Health and Reid Health all gave syringe exchange programs strong endorsement.

Jeremy Turner, director of the state Health Department’s HIV prevention program, said that the local program is to be commended as one of the state’s best. He pledged that the state Health Department would support the local program how ever it is asked.

Turner said local people who have used the program have returned more than 95 percent of the needles they’ve received, trading them in for clean needles. Noting that the program is meant to prevent the occurrence of Hepatitis and HIV, he said the local program had come in contact with 206 people who requested help, resulting in 827 opportunities to connect to resources.

Meridian Health Services local director Jessica Burton said that her facility is willing to work with the program.

Craig C. Kinyon, Reid Health’s CEO, said the hospital is willing to provide resources, much as it does in a partnership in Wayne County. There, it provides supplies and reception and clerical staff, while Centerstone provides screening, education and counseling services.

He said that Reid had been prevented from purchasing the building that housed the syringe exchange by a bank involved in the sale of Fayette Regional. It should not be seen as a comment about the needle exchange, he said, which has a proven record of helping address vital public health concerns.

The county health department had run the local program until early 2018, when the two employees in charge changed jobs, going to work for Fayette Regional Health System. At that time, the hospital agreed to take over, letting those two employees continue running it and putting the program in a building north of the hospital. When Fayette Regional was purchased by Reid Health last month, that building was not part of the purchase.