Indiana News

Indiana county turns to nonprofit to run needle-exchange

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (AP) – A cash-strapped southern Indiana county is turning to a nonprofit foundation to finance and run its proposed needle-exchange program, which will aim to combat the spread of HIV and other diseases among intravenous drug users.

Clark County Health Department officer Dr. Kevin Burke submitted a plan Tuesday to the State Department of Health that calls for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation to entirely fund and operate the county’s proposed needle-exchange. Indiana law bars state funds from being used for needle exchanges.

State health commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams has 10 days to review the proposal and decide whether he’ll approve it, reject it or request additional information. The county’s plan asks Adams to declare a “public health emergency” to allow Clark County to start a needle exchange, which would provide IV drug users with clean syringes to prevent needle-sharing that spreads HIV, hepatitis C and other diseases.

“It’s a very detailed plan. We took the time to analyze some other counties’ plans in order to adopt the best practices,” Burke told The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky.

Burke said Clark County officials turned to the nonprofit, Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation because the county doesn’t have enough funding to run one. He said the foundation already has a mobile needle-exchange facility, staffing and supplies.

To date, Indiana’s health agency has approved needle exchanges in Scott, Madison and Fayette counties and is reviewing requests from Clark and Monroe counties, agency spokeswoman Jennifer O’Malley said.

The small Scott County city of Austin, north of Clark County, is the epicenter of a southeastern Indiana HIV outbreak tied to needle sharing among IV drug users. State officials said this month that outbreak had grown to 184 HIV cases.

Monroe County’s proposal calls for another nonprofit, the Indiana Recovery Alliance, to administer its program. That county’s health administrator, Penny Caudill, said its agreement with the alliance does not bind it to making a direct payment to the group for its services.

But Caudill told The (Bloomington) Herald-Times that the county’s health department will provide some oversight by department staff that will account for in-kind contributions to the program.