Syringe exchange bill passes Senate after spirited debate

By Zoie Richey
TheStatehouseFile.com

 INDIANAPOLIS — A bill that would shorten the process for a county to open up its own needle exchange program passed the Senate Thursday after a lively debate over whether it promotes drug use.

The debate centered on whether the kits provided through needle exchange programs supplies drug users with some of the materials they need to use drugs.

Currently, there are eight syringe exchange programs in the state, but only seven are operational. Each of those programs supplies participants with a kit that is intended to reduce the transmission of disease.

Sen. Jean Leising rises in opposition of House Bill 1438 in front of the Senate. Photo by Zoie Richey, TheStatehouseFile.com

“The cook pots and the metal cook pot handles trouble me the most, because truthfully it looked like we were enabling people,” Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, said. “We were giving them the kit to figure out how to do it if they didn’t know how.”

While some senators are concerned about the kits, Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, said they are essential in combating the state’s health crisis.

Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, voted against House Bill 1438, saying she is more concerned the needle exchange programs have become “needle giveaways.”

“The state is saying that this is okay, that drug use is okay,” Houchin said.

Sen. Chip Perfect, R-Lawrenceburg, argued the bill is not about drug users. He said it’s about protecting the good citizens of Indiana from contracting a disease from someone already infected.

“You’re not going to catch a drug addiction from a drug addict. It’s not contagious, but these diseases are,” Perfect said.

Sen. Michael Crider agreed that the citizens of the state need to be protected.

“The reality is if a healthcare worker contracts hepatitis C, their career may be over. Their ability to have direct patient care may be done,” Crider said.

Sen. Jean Breaux speaks on why the state needs to pass House Bill 1438. Photo by Zoie Richey, TheStatehouseFile.com

Breaux voted for the bill, because she thinks it’s what the state needs. Studies show that the current syringe exchange programs have decreased hepatitis C transmission by 50 percent and HIV transmission by 80 percent.

“The most important aspect of the needle exchange program, along with directing users to treatment services, is that it does reduce and prevent the spread of HIV, Hepatitis C and other diseases,” Breaux said.

The bill passed the full Senate 32-16. The differences between the Senate and House versions will need to be resolved before the bill is finalized.

Zoie Richey is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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