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Holcomb, Gregg Lean Toward State Funding For Needle Exchanges

Steve Burns

Both of Indiana’s gubernatorial front-runners say the state’s current system for fighting drug-related disease needs an overhaul.

When it comes to state-funded syringe exchange programs, both lean toward reforming the current system, though one more emphatically than the other.

Even though state-approved syringe exchange programs were made legal last year in an effort to curb the spread of drug-related disease, the state doesn’t offer assistance to those programs. And the law explicitly bans using state money to purchase the needles themselves.

Without state appropriations, the operations are left to be run through small non-for-profits and donations.

Democrat John Gregg says he’d make state money available.

“I’m a realist,” says Gregg. “It’s always good to do the 'just say no, don’t do drugs,’ but right now we’ve got people who are spreading HIV through drugs, needles, through prostitution. We’ve got people dealing with a real drug epidemic.”

Republican Eric Holcomb says addressing the drug problem would “probably” mean the state would need to step in and provide fiscal assistance.

“…And it probably means changing the law to be able to address this so we can address this in a quicker way,” says Holcomb. “Because right now, we’re kind of handcuffed in what we can and can’t do and in the speed at which we can act.”

More than 1,000 people are now enrolled in the state’s six county-run needle exchange programs. The Indiana State Department of Health has hailed them as one of the most effective ways to combat HIV and hepatitis C.

Earlier this year, the federal government lifted its ban on funding exchanges, but like Indiana, it still prohibits the use of federal money to purchase needles. Federal cash may be used for staffing and educational purposes. 

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