needle exchange

When she was 17, Tracey Helton Mitchell was prescribed an opioid pain killer after getting her wisdom teeth extracted. The medicine helped her deal with the pain related to the extraction, but when the prescription ran out, her desire for its euphoric high remained. That's when she turned to heroin.

The needle exchange in Fayette County, Ind. is hidden in a back office at the health department. Paula Maupin, the county’s public health nurse, runs the exchange, which is basically just a desk with baskets of everything a drug user needs, apart from the drugs. There are syringes, cotton balls, alcohol swabs—even tourniquets.

 


Seth Herald / Side Effects Public Media

Amid fears that providing free, clean needles would promote illegal drug use, Congress passed a law prohibiting the use of federal funds to support needle exchange programs in 1988. But at the end of last year, lawmakers effectively ended that ban.

Seth Herald

Getting Right, Part 2

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Heading out into the field, public health nurse Brittany Combs is a little angry, and in a hurry. Driving the county’s mobile needle exchange through Austin, Indiana can be hectic. Today she’s on a mission to find Jessica, a young mother who wants to go to rehab. But Brittany keeps getting interrupted.

“I’m supposed to be going to get Jessica right now,” she says as she pulls out of the community center, where the needle exchange is based. ”I told her I’d be there at three. Well, that’s not gonna happen.”


RCAP

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

Seth Herald / Side Effects Public Media

On a recent afternoon, Brittany Combs drove a white SUV through a neighborhood at the northern end of Austin, Indiana. In the back of her vehicle, there were hundreds of sterile syringes, each in a plastic wrapper.


Indiana Passes Needle Exchange Bill

May 1, 2015
needle exchange
Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons

The Indiana General Assembly took action Wednesday on a bill that would allow needle exchanges in some counties. Needle exchanges allow drug users to trade dirty syringes for clean ones, in order to reduce transmission of infections such as HIV. The number of people infected with HIV has continued to grow in rural Scott County, Indiana since the state health department declared an outbreak there in late February.

Patrick Pezzati walks briskly through downtown Turners Falls in western Massachusetts with a hard plastic bottle in one pocket of his shorts and a pair of latex gloves in the other.

He stops to peer down steps leading to a basement. Later, he peers under a chunk of carpet lying outside.

The local record store owner is scouring the back alleys of this picturesque former mill town for used needles.

A temporary needle exchange program is set up at a Community Outreach Center in Austin, Ind.
Barbara Harrington / WFIU/WTIU

More than 130 people have tested positive since December, and the outbreak is no longer contained to just Scott County.

As the number of people living with HIV in Indiana increases, health officials, politicians and everyday people remain at odds over how to stop the disease from spreading.


Melissa Johnson/Flickr

Legislation that would allow needle exchanges in some Indiana counties cleared the House Public Health Committee on Monday. 

Last week, Gov. Mike Pence declared a public health emergency in Scott County, which has seen about 80 new HIV cases in just the last few months. Though Pence has allowed a needle exchange to operate in the county for 30 days, he has maintained his opposition to allowing needle exchanges statewide.

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