Tippecanoe County Health Department officials report a 93-percent syringe return rate among recurring participants during the first six months of the county’s needle exchange program.
A total of 138 people – most between the ages of 30 and 40 – have participated. The department has distributed about 11,000 needles in that time.
County Health Officer Jeremy Adler says the department has also focused on connecting participants with resources including substance abuse treatment, mental health services and Hepatitis C and HIV testing.
“And these are all very important aspects of taking care of these folks,” Adler says. “The ultimate goal, of course, is to have our participants get into treatment and get off of drugs altogether. Then we wouldn’t need a program like this.”
About half of the participants tested positive for Hepatitis C, but no HIV tests returned positive.
Adler says some participants have been tested more than once, while some knew before visiting the exchange that they had Hep-C.
“The purpose of this program really is harm reduction,” Adler says. “And it’s looking at the public health emergency we have here in Tippecanoe County related to increasing numbers of Hepatitis C infections and this is a scientifically-proven, evidence-based way to address that problem.”
County Commissioner Tom Murtaugh – who cast the lone vote in opposition to the program’s extension in November -- was the only elected official to attend the health department’s presentation Thursday.