For quite a long time, a state ban stopping the creation of syringe exchanges stymied public health efforts in the name of not enabling addicts. And two years ago, the situation deteriorated to the point where cheap moralizing could no longer withstand proven medical evidence.
Now that the law has changed, Hoosier officials across the state must decide their next course of action.
Last year, a bill allowing counties to create needle exchange programs — without a go-ahead from state government — passed into law. Tribune reporter George Myers broke the news the Howard County Health Department was preparing for the potential adoption of a local syringe exchange. The need to take the issue of disease spread through dirty needle use should be obvious to everyone in the state.
The dangers of an HIV outbreak, like the one in southern Indiana in 2015, and a widespread hepatitis C epidemic are being compounded by the nationwide heroin scourge. The lack of available options for addicts to exchange dirty needles for clean ones only serves to exacerbate the situation and create more problems where we already have more than enough.
Foot-dragging by elected officials on the local, state and national stage will only make things worse. The syringe-exchange bill passed last year was part of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s agenda to combat opioid abuse.
But that mustn’t be the end.
State Sens. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, and Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, have proposed Senate Bill 139 in the current legislative session. It requires county coroners to do the following if they suspect an overdose as the cause of death: Test certain bodily fluids for the presence of drugs, report those tests to the Indiana State Department of Health, and include notice of death with related information to the controlled substances involved, if any.
Opioid overdose deaths are an issue in every state in the country and swift action is needed. Sharing data in a streamlined way should be the first order of business. This sort of information will be key, as local and state jurisdictions struggle to confront it head-on.
This isn’t a fight we asked for, but it’s one we must take on with clear eyes and correct information. We don’t really have another option here.