One of Indiana's four legal needle exchange programs operates out of a cramped 10 foot-by-10 foot office in the basement of the local courthouse in Fayette County, which is struggling with a hepatitis C outbreak amid the state's growing opioid-abuse crisis.
Though just seven intravenous drug users addicted to heroin are enrolled in the program, Paula Maupin, Fayette County's public health nurse, expects that to grow to 75 to 100 participants in the next year or so. The problem is, lawmakers banned state funding for the exchanges when they legalized them last year, even as Indiana's worst-ever HIV outbreak struck in another county.
The four counties — Fayette, Madison, Monroe and Scott — that won state approval for their exchanges after that law took effect last May are cash-strapped and in largely rural areas. They had to scramble to find money from nonprofits, foundations, donations or county coffers to run the programs, which provide intravenous drug users with clean syringes and collect used ones to reduce needle-sharing and prevent the spread of HIV, hepatitis C and other diseases. But local officials are hoping federal funding can give them a boost.
Fayette County turned to the Comer Family Foundation and the Washington-based advocacy group AIDS United, which provided $23,000. Although its exchange won state approval in August, it didn't open in Connersville, about 50 miles east of Indianapolis, until November.