Marion County officials introduce needle exchange program

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - The Marion County Health Department will introduce its first-ever syringe services program on Wednesday as part of an expanding statewide effort to fight drug abuse.

The program is officially called the Safe Syringe Access and Support Program. It’s a needle exchange program meant to cut down Hepatitis C cases and prevent an HIV outbreak, both more common when injection drug users share needles.

The Marion County program was approved last year. Officials will introduce a mobile unit that will operate county-wide on Wednesday.

There are a few factors that determine where that unit goes, like where overdose deaths happen or where Narcan is used. They'll also get recommendations by IMPD.

The program offers other support too, including HIV and hepatitis C rapid screening, referrals for mental health treatment and primary care, immunizations, and access to health insurance.

There are eight other counties with needle exchange programs: Scott, Fayette, Madison, Monroe, Wayne, Clark, Allen, and Tippecanoe Counties. Scott County is the epicenter of an HIV outbreak tied to IV drug use. Health officials reported fewer than five HIV cases every year until 2015-2016. That number increased exponentially to 200 new HIV cases the following year, and officials say it was tied to IV drug use.

In Marion County in 2017, officials saw a 10-fold increase in Hepatitis C cases. With this new mobile unit, they’re trying to slow that rate and any potential HIV increase.

The Marion County Health Department says people who are in syringe exchange programs are more likely to enter drug treatment. For those who don’t stop using, these syringes are single use, sterile and eliminate needle sharing.

That mobile unit is being introduced at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Marion County Health Department.

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