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Commissioners Approve Needle Exchange Program
Updated July 27, 2016 7:18 AM | Filed under: Health
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(BEDFORD) - The Lawrence County Commissioners voted to implement a needle exchange program Tuesday morning.

The vote will allow the Lawrence County Health Department to contract with Bloomington's Indiana Recovery Alliance to implement the new program.

The state must now approve the plan, until then no date has been set on when the program will start.

The county declared a state of emergency in February. Since that time the Health Department is seeing 5 to 10 new cases of Hepatitis C a week. In the month of May 8 out of the 9 inmates tested positive for the disease.

Syringe exchange is part of a comprehensive public health effort to reduce HIV and hepatitis C among drug-injecting populations. Syringe Exchange Programs "exchange" sterile for used syringes, and link participants to screening and treatment for hepatitis C and HIV, as well as substance abuse treatment.

Needle exchanges have long been controversial. Proponents say they effectively curb the spread of disease. But opponents argue that they enable addicts to keep using.

Mitchell resident Ron Pridemore spoke against the needle exchange saying, "Drugs in no way should be provided to a drug user by a taxpayer who has said no to drugs."

Leesville resident Eric Thompson agreed.

"It is a choice you make to use," he added. "Why do I have to pay for their needles."

But taxpayers will not be paying for the program. It is funded by AIDS United a national non-profit organization based in Washington, DC, that is dedicated to ending the AIDS epidemic in the United States.

Pharmacist Steve Anderson, says people can talk about morals all day, but the fact is the county needs to unify and put a stop to the spread of hepatitis C.

"Babies are being born infected by their mothers," he added. "Others are at risk every day of contracting the disease."

John Sherrill president of the county health board says the county needs a better way of disposing of hazardous needles.

"It is worth what every we have to do, to do that," he added.

Sheriff Mike Branham addressed the commissioners as part of the Judical Review Committee.

"This is not a judical or law enforcement issue," he added. "It is a public health issue. I don't like the idea of giving out needles and everything else that is used to do or make drugs. But after reading six studies, not one needle exchange program saw an increase in drug use."

Commissioners Chris May and David Flinn agreed.

"We have to separate morals and judicial issues," May added. "I am dead set against some of the is unsettling and something I can't personally understand...but with that we appointed these individuals to the health board and I have tremendous faith in their judgement to protect our public health and they unanimously approved this plan... I can't turn a blind eye to that."

Flinn says this vote was the single most conflicting thing for him in the 12 years he has served as a commissioner.

"When this was first presented it was a big no for me," he added. "Then we asked for more information and received it. It's about public health and nothing else. We must protect our officers when they are patting down a person during an arrest and our ambulance crews who are ripping away clothing to treat a wound. This has been the hardest vote in my career as commissioner."

Commissioner Flinn did request that once the program up and running that officials provide a monthly report to the commissioners on the data collected.

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