LAFAYETTE – Could all the voices calling for the end to Tippecanoe County’s syringe exchange get what they want, just one year in?
David Byers says he’s listening.
And he’s struggling, a week away from a vote that could pull the plug on Gateway to Hope, the county health department’s year-old program that offers free syringes in the name of harm reduction – in the form of enticing a growing number of heroin addicts into treatment and keeping a secondary outbreak of hepatitis C and HIV caused by shared needles from leaving Tippecanoe County with two crises on its hands.
“I’m still in the middle,” said Byers, one of three Republican county commissioners.
The state asks counties that declare health emergencies, needed to establish needle exchanges, to review the decision every two years. In Tippecanoe County, one of nine Indiana counties that have set up syringe exchanges since 2015, commissioners agreed to look at things year by year.
Tom Murtaugh, a county commissioner, says he’s still a definite no. He voted in November 2016 against the health department’s request to join a handful of other Indiana counties with needle exchanges, saying he didn’t believe Tippecanoe County had a hepatitis C epidemic on its hands.
Tracy Brown, who was Tippecanoe County sheriff for eight years before being elected as a commissioner, remains an undaunted supporter of the program as critics pile on and other counties junk their exchanges.