This week saw a depressing turn in the fight against the opioid epidemic wreaking havoc on our state as Madison County ended their needle exchange program.
“The Madison County Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to effectively end the needle exchange program by adopting an ordinance that prohibits funding for an employee to oversee the operation of the program,” reported The Herald Bulletin’s Ken de la Bastide. “The ordinance prohibits the use of county funds or donations and gifts to purchase the needles and the necessary supplies. … The program was started in 2015 after the Madison County commissioners declared a public health emergency over concerns about the potential spread of hepatitis C and HIV. The council was being asked to approve a $15,000 appropriation which is used by the Madison County Health Department for supplies for the needle exchange program, other than the purchase of syringes. The money is being donated.”
This move will not stop intravenous drug users from shooting up. What it will do is cause them to turn to dirty needles to get their fix in, further exacerbating the already alarming trend of hepatitis C and HIV infections.
We don’t have a needle exchange program in Howard County yet. If the relevant agencies – including the Howard County Health Department and the Howard County Commissioners – decide there should be one, it should be fully funded for as long as it’s needed. If Madison County’s current predicament can serve as any kind of lesson, it might be that programs are fine, provided they are fully funded.
We here in Howard County have recognized that the opioid issue is not an entirely law enforcement program. Social help is needed. Mental health help is needed. Addiction help is needed. This isn’t a simple problem, and it won’t be solved with a simple solution. It will take hard work on multiple fronts, and we’ll need all the necessary tools on the table.