Conservative Indiana Adopted Needle Exchanges But Still Faces Local Resistance

Back when Cody Gabbard was capturing heroin, his solely vital human contact was with others within the throes of dependancy, who solely cared to see him when he had medicine.

Then he walked into the basement of Fayette County’s courthouse within the jap Indiana metropolis of Connersville, the place two ladies — a public well being nurse and a restoration coach — ran a syringe change program.

“There were days I went in there, to be honest with you, I just felt like killing myself. That would usually change by their spirits,” stated the now-27-year-old Gabbard, who contracted hepatitis C throughout his drug use. “As people say, a smile can do a lot for a person, and it certainly does, especially when you’re in a dark spot in life.”

Cody Gabbard poses for a portrait at Fayette County Community Corrections in Connersville, Indiana, on Jan. 23, 2020, when he was collaborating in a work-release program. Now in restoration, Gabbard beforehand used a syringe change in Connersville. He recollects that the ladies who operated the change weren’t solely the primary folks in a very long time who handled him like a human being, however in addition they put a brand new concept in his head: You don’t must dwell like this.

Besides hope and connection, this system he visited in 2017 provided free, clear needles and a spot to eliminate soiled ones. People might additionally get HIV and hepatitis C testing, the overdose-reversal drug naloxone, fentanyl check strips, immunizations and wound care, plus referrals to drug therapy and different neighborhood sources.

Such applications have been unlawful in Indiana till 2015. That’s when an HIV outbreak amongst injection drug customers in southern Indiana’s Scott County induced lawmakers to rethink their objections to syringe exchanges, making the state floor zero for conservatives’ growing acceptance of giving clear needles to folks fighting dependancy.

But 5 years later, syringe exchanges are working in solely 9 of Indiana’s 92 counties, together with Fayette, despite the fact that federal well being officers warn that eight more are vulnerable to an HIV outbreak much like Scott County’s. Some public well being consultants say this displays a seamless reluctance to deal with dependancy as a well being problem and the political and logistical difficulties of beginning exchanges and maintaining them open.

“We’ve definitely made a lot of progress since the Scott County outbreak,” stated Don Des Jarlais, a professor within the School of Global Public Health at New York University, noting that the number of syringe exchanges nationwide has roughly doubled since 2015. “But we still have a very, very long way to go.”

Darci Moore and Charmin Gabbard acquire secure injection tools and syringes for a participant on the Fayette County Harm Reduction Alliance syringe change in Connersville, Indiana, on Jan. 23, 2020.(Meg Vogel for KHN)

Charmin Gabbard, who runs the Fayette County Harm Reduction Alliance syringe change, talks with a participant on Jan. 23, 2020. The syringe change is open twice every week on the workplaces of Meridian Health in Connersville, Indiana. Gabbard says she hopes to extend its hours of operation and prolong providers to carry out avenue outreach.(Meg Vogel for KHN)

In Indiana and West Virginia, he stated, syringe exchanges have shut down or had restrictions positioned on them due to backlash within the communities. This has occurred regardless of decades of research displaying that syringe applications forestall the unfold of illness and scale back well being care prices with out growing unlawful drug use or crime.

Other conservative states that lifted restrictions on syringe exchanges within the wake of Indiana’s HIV outbreak have fared higher. For occasion, Kentucky and North Carolina, which eased laws in 2015 and 2016, respectively, each have exchanges out there in about half their counties.

Darci Moore, an intern on the Fayette County Harm Reduction Alliance, collects secure injection tools for a participant on the syringe change in Connersville, Indiana, on Jan. 23, 2020.

Indiana state Rep. Ed Clere, a Republican who authored the unique needle change laws in 2015, wish to see higher acceptance of the applications in his state.

“Syringe service applications have saved numerous lives and prevented numerous circumstances of HIV and hepatitis C,” he stated. “I see how well it’s working in the counties that have a program, and I hate it that syringe programs aren’t available for all Hoosiers.”

Indiana’s law requires syringe exchanges to be approved by both a county’s govt physique or a municipality’s legislative physique, after which be renewed at the very least each two years. Alternatively, Indiana’s well being commissioner can declare a neighborhood state of emergency. The statewide regulation, as soon as set to run out in 2019, was amended to finish on July 1, 2021. A bill in the Indiana Senate to repeal the expiration date was defeated in early February.

Since April 2015, when the primary authorized syringe change opened in Scott County, 9 extra have launched throughout the state. Three have closed, with two of them finally reopening.

The larger problem is “we have a lot of communities that want to get one started, but they can’t,” stated Indiana University researcher Carrie Lawrence.

Enabling Drug Use Or Saving Lives?

Instead, some native well being departments in Indiana have resorted to distributing so-called hurt discount kits that embody every part however syringes, akin to sterile provides to prepare dinner, snort and smoke narcotics. Still, these, too, have drawn the ire of some politicians and regulation enforcement.

“We’re handing people equipment we know [is] going to be used for injection or ingestion of narcotics. We’re not getting anywhere,” stated Lt. John Watson, a police officer in Seymour, Indiana, who has spoken out against his county health department’s harm reduction program.

Charmin Gabbard, who runs the Fayette County Harm Reduction Alliance in Connersville, Indiana, exhibits a syringe change participant the intramuscular Narcan on Jan. 23, 2020.(Meg Vogel for KHN)

The syringe change run by the Fayette County Harm Reduction Alliance supplies entry to and disposal of syringes and injection tools. (Meg Vogel for KHN)

But public well being officers argue that the provides are vital to stopping the unfold of an infection, and that individuals will get excessive no matter whether or not they have clear tools.

“They’re going to use a spoon. But they’re going to use their mother’s kitchen spoon instead,” famous Khala Hochstedler, administrator of the Tippecanoe County Health Department, which has operated an change since 2017. “That could have hepatitis C on it, and another family member could pick it up.”

One of essentially the most vocal opponents of the syringe service applications has been Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, who argues for strict one-on-one exchanges of used needles for clear ones.

“Distributing needles without any reasonable degree of accountability … simply leads to wider abuse of illegal drugs and increased likelihood of death by overdose,” he stated in a press release, citing anecdotal testimony from public security officers he had visited all through the state. He additionally pointed to a media report from Richmond, Indiana, saying the county prosecutor had documented a deadly overdose involving a needle from the native syringe change.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites analysis displaying that syringe exchanges scale back the quantity of needle waste in a neighborhood, by offering avenues for secure disposal; up to now, Hill has publicly quarreled with the company over its analysis. According to the Indiana State Department of Health, 82% of syringes distributed by the applications have been returned.

Indiana has seen a drop in new HIV diagnoses linked to injection drug use — from 175 in 2015, the yr of the outbreak, to 17 three years later. During that interval, new hepatitis C circumstances rose from 7,144 to 7,837, although some syringe change officers stated they anticipated these numbers to initially improve as extra folks received examined.

A participant offers Charmin Gabbard used syringes that she had been gathering in a disposal field for used needles for months on the syringe change run by the Fayette County Harm Reduction Alliance in Connersville, Indiana, on Jan. 23, 2020. The participant stated she would reuse the needles till they “felt like a fishing hook and hurt.”

Politics Has Closed Exchanges

Stephenie Grimes, administrator for the Madison County Health Department, stated she finds one-for-one exchanges problematic as a result of staffers are pressured to ask confrontational questions which may flip folks away. Users carry their dirty needles again in disposal containers that aren’t clear, so you possibly can’t inform what number of syringes are inside.

“There is no good way to ensure you’re getting one for one,” she stated.

In 2016, a yr after an change began in her central Indiana neighborhood, her company went to the one-for-one mannequin to handle public issues. Opponents weren’t assuaged.

The Fayette County Courthouse is a historic courthouse positioned in Connersville, Indiana, on Central Avenue. Back when Cody Gabbard was capturing heroin, he would go to a syringe change program within the basement of the courthouse.

The following yr, despite the fact that the Madison County commissioners — the county’s govt physique — had renewed the change, the county council — the fiscal physique — voted to tug funding for the well being division if it continued this system.

The initiative shut down for 12 months till a neighborhood nonprofit well being system, Aspire Indiana, agreed to function it.

About 120 miles away, in southern Indiana, Lawrence County deserted its syringe change in 2017, after solely a yr, when county commissioners expressed issues about abetting unlawful drug use. Commissioner Rodney Fish elicited national attention when he cited a verse from the Old Testament that instructions folks to hope and “turn from their wicked ways.”

Reached in December, Fish stated his opinion on the matter hasn’t modified and added: “Our community is dealing with the issue in other, compassionate ways.” He declined to remark additional.

The syringe change in Connersville, the place Gabbard used to go, shut down final May after the native hospital the place it had moved, Fayette Regional, went bankrupt and closed.

But the change reopened Jan. 22 at Meridian Health’s Connersville clinic. The program goals to serve the identical variety of folks it did earlier than, about 100 a month.

Gabbard recalled that the ladies who operated the change not solely have been the primary folks in a very long time who handled him like a human being, in addition they put a brand new concept in his head: You don’t must dwell like this.

So after his final narcotics-related arrest, in June 2018, he opted for drug courtroom, which permits defendants to get therapy in lieu of jail time.

Research has found that IV drug customers who go to a syringe change are considerably extra more likely to enter therapy and cease or reduce on capturing narcotics than those that don’t.

“Really, the needle exchange was the reason why I even started to think about getting clean,” Gabbard stated.

Now in restoration, he hopes to be a greater function mannequin for his 7-year-old son. He has desires of beginning a landscaping enterprise. And he now not wants a syringe change.

Charmin Gabbard, who runs a syringe change by means of the Fayette County Harm Reduction Alliance in Connersville, Indiana, embraces a participant on Jan. 23, 2020. Gabbard used medicine for nearly 30 years and served about 10 years in jail, however she has been in restoration for six years.

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