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As More Indiana Counties Seek Needle Exchanges, A New Resource Hopes To Smooth The Path

A new initiative from IU's Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention will provide Indiana counties with resources to start their own needle exchange programs.

A new initiative known as Project Cultivate aims to connect counties with the resources they need to start a needle exchange program from scratch.

Needle exchanges used to be illegal in Indiana, but under legislation passed this year, counties can request permission from the state to start a program. Scott County, the epicenter of an HIV outbreak that has seen 160 cases since December, recently received permission from the Indiana State Department of Health to run its exchange for a full year, in hopes of stopping the spread of the virus among injection drug users.

But Scott County isn’t the only county interested in an exchange, and getting approval for such a program could be difficult. Counties must go through a multi-step process, which begins with identifying an outbreak of HIV or hepatitis C and ends with an emergency declaration from the state health commissioner. 

To make that process easier, the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention (RCAP) decided to give counties a go-to source of information to help get the ball rolling.

“Communities needed to know who to call,” says Beth Meyerson, director of RCAP. She says getting a needle exchange program up and running needs to be done by the community itself, so Project Cultivate’s role is to help community members figure out steps they need to take to move forward. “We want to listen to communities and their challenges.”

The site will prompt county leaders to think about the data they would need to justify a program, the broader conversations they might have about drug abuse or what other services they may want to provide along with the needle exchange.

“Our real goal is to help communities navigate that conversation,” Meyerson says. “And then what we’re doing is bringing in resources for that.”

The project is still in development, but Meyerson plans to launch a survey tool soon that will automatically provide counties with some of the information they may need, as well as connect them with organizations that can provide expertise or funding once a exchange has been approved. 

Jake Harper is an investigative reporter for Side Effects Public Media, and he is a co-host of the Sick podcast. He can be reached at