By Amanda Creech
Three Indiana counties – Scott, Madison and Fayette – are taking advantage of needle exchange programs and more than a dozen others are looking to add their names to the list.
“I think it’s safe to say that these communities as they move forward they represent a new generation of syringe exchange,” said Beth Meyerson, co-director for the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention. “They’re very different from their counterparts across the country that have had exchanges in place for many years.”
Earlier this year, Gov. Mike Pence signed into law a bill authored by Sen. Pat Miller, R-Indianapolis, and sponsored by Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany. It made syringe exchange programs legal in Indiana for the first time – but only if community officials can convince the state it has a Hepatitis C or HIV outbreak. The law lays out procedural requirements that local communities must meet for the state to declare an emergency and authorize a needle exchange.
Meyerson said at least 20 counties across the state, including the three already approved, are in some stage of the process of discussing and implementing a needle exchange program.
David Powell, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorney Council, said there is a dual track on drug usage in Indiana.
“There’s the public health track involving treatment and the needle exchange and those programs, and then there is a public safety track and it takes both of those when working together we believe to try to solve this complicated problem,” Powell said.
Powell proposed several amendments to current legislation that might help curb drug usage by cracking down on users. The current legislation, he said, isn’t sufficient. Users are taking plea deals and being sent to rehab, he said, rather than facing jail time.
“There is no fear of going to jail,” he said. “We would like to see where there are multiple enhancers.”
Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, said he disagrees with Powell’s advocacy of changing legislation.
“I can’t believe after five years of criminal code reform that we are at this point where the prosecutors are advocating to go back and revisit the five year process to enhance the drug penalties so that they can solve the drug problem if we only gave them more leverage,” Landis said.
Landis also said 65 percent of the individuals in the Indiana Department of Corrections were incarcerated for drug use.
“65 percent of the major felonies were for drug dealing. Not for large amounts of drugs, but for any amount of drugs, got you a minimum 20 year sentence,” he said. “We don’t need to go back to those days of putting people in prison who are users and treat them as dealers because they’re not.”
The Indiana Public Defender Council, Landis said, is in favor of the needle exchange program.
“There is plenty of data for the last 20 to 30 years that it does help reduce transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C,” he said. “We found no research that would indicate that it has an impact on increasing drug usage so if there’s no consequences, it just makes sense to support the needle exchange program.”
Fayette County has not yet implemented their needle exchange program but they received approval Aug. 14. Madison County was approved on June 23.
The study committee set a tentative meeting on Sept. 16 to discuss the needle exchange program further.
Recommendations by the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council
1. Amend state law to enhance dealing offenses by two levels if defendant has more than one enhancing circumstance.
2. Amend state law to raise the offense to a Level 1 felony if the person manufactures, delivers, or finances the manufacture or delivery of the narcotic drug, and the drug, alone or in combination with another drug, results in the death of another person.
3. Amend state law to restore mandatory minimum sentences if an enhancing circumstance applies, the amount of the drug is over 10 grams, or results in the death of another person.
4. Add Family Housing Complex and Youth Program Center to the locations proscribed by the 500 foot rule in the definition of Enhancing Circumstances (35-48-1-16.5)
5. Eliminate language in 35-48-4-1 and 35-48-4-1.1 that requires evidence in addition to the weight of the drug to prove an intent to deal the drug. Alternatively, set a threshold level of 5 grams, at which evidence in addition to weight of the drug is not required for proof of intent.
Amanda Creech is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.