WHY MARION COUNTY NEEDS A SYRINGE EXCHANGE PROGRAM
The Marion County Public Health Department announces an important step in launching its Safe Syringe Access and Support (SSAS) Program. On April 10, 2019, the health department joined community leaders, partners and supporters for the unveiling of a mobile unit that will be used to operate the county’s first syringe service program.
The Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation awarded a three-year, $1.45 million grant to the county to help fund the program.
The Safe Syringe Access and Support (SSAS) Program will reduce the growing number of hepatitis C infections in the county and prevent an HIV outbreak. Studies show that participants in a syringe exchange program are five times more likely to enter drug treatment than injection drug users who do not participate in the program.
The number of persons who inject drugs in Marion County is rising significantly, leading to a future burden of costly chronic diseases spanning their lifetimes and beyond. Current measures aimed at injection drug abstinence have been inadequate – surveillance, evaluation activities and secondary prevention programs have failed to avert hepatitis C transmission through intravenous (IV) drug use.
Marion County is now faced with implementing harm reduction strategies to minimize the adverse outcomes of injection drug use while promoting the overall health and safety of injection drug users and their families. For individuals who will not or cannot stop injecting drugs, the one-time use of sterile syringes is the safest, most successful method for limiting the transmission of blood-borne infections.
Surveillance by the Marion County Public Health Department shows a greater than 10-fold increase among all individuals acquiring acute hepatitis C in Marion County in 2017. Doctors and public health officials fear increased IV drug use may also lead to a severe HIV outbreak, similar to what transpired in Scott County, Indiana where health officials diagnosed over 200 new cases of HIV from 2015-16 which historically reported fewer than 5 cases annually.
Syringe exchange programs are proven to be effective at reducing the rates of hepatitis C within communities while preventing outbreaks of HIV. The health department’s proposed SSAS Program would work to reduce the spread of infectious disease throughout the community while offering additional support services to participants, such as engagement in substance abuse treatment, health care navigation and overdose prevention education.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) supports that syringe exchange programs:
- Curtail drug use
- Reduce needlestick injuries among first responders
- Decrease overdose deaths
- Reduce new HIV and viral hepatitis infections
- Save tax and health care dollars by preventing overdoses and new HIV/hepatitis C infections
The proposed SSAS Program would ensure injection drug users have access to clean syringes to prevent infections, keep used needles off the streets and connect individuals with needed health services.
Initially, the program would operate as a mobile unit. Sites would be based on overdose deaths by location, residences of decedents, Indianapolis EMS use of Narcan, and recommendations by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.
Support services would include:
- HIV and hepatitis C rapid screening
- Safer drug use practices
- Referral for substance use disorder and mental health treatment
- Wound care education
- Referral to primary care
- Access to health insurance coverage
To learn more, please visit www.marionhealth.org.
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