No one has asked for Daviess County to begin a needle exchange program. The levels of HIV and hepatitis C in the community have not come close to any health official requesting it. But prodded by Daviess County Prosecutor Dan Murrie, who was supported by Sheriff Jerry Harbstreit, Washington Police Chief Todd Church and Daviess County Public Health Nurse Kathy Sullender, the county council approved a motion saying it will not provide any funding for a needle exchange program.
"My colleagues here on the council today made a statement that we don't want drugs and drug users in this county," said President of the Daviess County Council Mike Sprinkle. "Therefore, they have decided they will not fund the needle exchange program being offered by the state."
The council decision came following a lengthy presentation by Murrie who claims that instead of being a life saver, needle exchange is actually something that encourages drug use and leads to overdoses.
"It's a misnomer," said Murrie. "This is a full drug cook set. The only thing missing is the actual heroin. The idea that we would be behind a government sponsored drug paraphernalia giveaway doesn't align with the values we have in Daviess County. That is not what we are about. If this was an independent person giving this stuff away I would charge them with a crime."
While the idea behind needle exchange is to stop needle sharing and slow down the growth of HIV and hepatitis C cases, officials say that what it really does is encourage and increase the amount of intravenous drug use. "We do have these diseases," said Sullender. "The health board has discussed this. Our HIV rate is constant and we have had some additional Hep-C cases but those are chronic long term diseases. The Health Board does not support needle exchange. Only if there is an HIV outbreak would we consider it."
"The fact is that six times as many Hoosiers died of drug overdoses in 2014 as in 2000," said Murrie. "In Scott County the needle exchange program increased the usage of heroin by 80 percent. People now have a greater chance of dying of a drug overdose that in a car accident. That is an unacceptable risk."
Currently Daviess County is considered to be sitting in the middle of a donut. Officials say that while heroin is spreading and the corresponding diseases tied to drug use is growing in nearby and neighboring counties Daviess County is not seeing the same level of growth.
"In my thirty plus years of doing this I have often seen a high percentage of folks who have had drug problems have been enabled by someone," said Harbstreit. "I don't want to be an enabler."
"I see the negatives outweigh the positives," added Washington Police Chief Todd Church. "Even with needle exchange they will still share needles if they get in a pinch."
Murrie also said there is evidence that needle exchange programs draw drug traffic. "When you start giving away heroin kits you become very attractive to heroin users and people interested in using heroin," he said. "People will trade clean needles for heroin. Now you become a resource in the black market to help these people increase their drug use and their access and ability to take a drug that has a greater possibility of killing them than a vehicle accident."
The prosecutor and police brought their case before the council because of a change in Indiana law. In the past needle exchange programs could only be started after state officials approved it. The law has now been changed putting that power and responsibility on individual counties.
"I have nothing negative to say about the governor or the legislature," said Murrie. "They have come through for us in a lot of ways this session. This just isn't a fit for us in Daviess County at all. It is your responsibility to keep this county safe from policies that increase the risk of losing human life which is what needle exchange from our data indicates."
The council followed the lead of the police and prosecutor to deny funding for any needle exchange program request. "There's enough deadbeats and drug dealers here already," said Councilman Pat Dant. "I don't want to encourage them to come here. This is to make a strong statement that we won't have this here."
"There's a lot of ramifications that go with those programs and our sheriff's department, our city police, our health department and prosecutor all said this program is not for Daviess County," said Sprinkle. "When our experts tell us we don't want that here, I have to follow their led and believe they know what they are talking about."
Even with the strong statement county officials say they do not intend to completely close the door on the possibility of a needle exchange program some time in the future.
"This is based on the circumstances we have now," said Sprinkle. "The consensus of everyone sitting here today was that things would have to be different before we would even entertain the idea of doing this program."