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City-County Council panel suggests extending syringe-exchange program

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The Indianapolis City-County Council’s public safety committee has recommended a two-year extension of the Safe Syringe Access and Support Program after hepatitis C cases increased dramatically in Marion County.

The mission of the a syringe-exchange program, which debuted in April 2019, is to collect and distribute needles and discourage people from sharing them.

“I think some people look at it as we are enabling them to do drugs. I don’t see it that way. I see it as a way to keep from spreading continued disease that’s plaguing our society,” Councillor La Keisha Jackson, a Democrat, said.

Hepatitis C is a bloodborne virus that can be spread by sharing needles. Dr. Virginia Caine, director of Marion County’s health department, said in a May 11 letter that hepatitis C is an epidemic mostly transmitted via intravenous drug use in Indianapolis.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says cases have quadrupled between 2010 and 2018 mainly because of people using opioids. If left untreated, hepatitis can damage the liver.

The Marion County Public Health Department says the Safe Syringe program has served nearly 2,000 people in the past few years. It provides counseling and resources to those who may not be able to get into a drug treatment center. The program also offers immunizations for hepatitis a and b, human papillomavirus (HPV), flu, and COVID-19, along with testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

Safe Syringe is a grant-funded program, and the health department estimates that for every $1 spent on syringe services, $7.58 is saved on HIV prevention.

The full City-County Council and Mayor Joe Hogsett will need to OK the proposal to extend the program.