ANDERSON — The Madison County Commissioners unanimously voted to relaunch the needle exchange program for two years through a contract with Aspire Indiana.
Following about one hour of public input on Tuesday, the commissioners approved the contract with Aspire to run the needle exchange program through June 5, 2020. The contract was passed contingent on Aspire providing insurance documents to the county.
Only four people spoke in opposition to the program, but the meeting room was full of supporters of the needle exchange program.
Those in opposition were concerned about the disposal of syringes.
The exchange rate of syringes was criticized by members of the Madison County Council when it voted to end the program managed by the Madison County Health Department last August.
Last month, the Aspire Health board of directors voted to begin the harm reduction program, including the needle exchange aspect.
The program will have an emphasis on testing for HIV and hepatitis C, a syringe exchange, vaccinations for hepatitis C and B, and an outpatient detoxification plan.
Dr. Kristina Box, state health commissioner, said the Indiana State Department of Health is supportive of the needle exchange programs in the state.
“It is important around the state, which is dealing with an opioid epidemic,” she said. “It is important way of getting people into treatment.”
Box said from 2015 to 2017 the number of hepatitis C cases in Madison County has doubled and is the next step to an increase in HIV cases.
She said treating hepatitis C costs between $50,000 to $80,000 and treatment costs for HIV can range from $400,000 to $600,000.
Box said hepatitis C can be transmitted by pregnant woman to their babies and can be sexually transmitted.
She was pleased to see that Madison County was considering implementing the program.
“This is the right thing from a public health standpoint to do,” Box said.
Dr. Stephen Wright, the county’s health officer, said he intent is to prevent the spread of hepatitis C in the county.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” he said of the cost of treatment.
“This is not a perfect option, but the only option we have to prevent hepatitis C,” Wright said. “This is a tool.”