A month ago in this space, The Herald Bulletin's editorial board encouraged the Madison County Health Department to work with County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings to address his concerns about the county's needle exchange program.
The exchange is meant to supply clean needles and other paraphernalia to drugs addicts to stanch the spread of HIV and hepatitis C. Health department officials report that about 500 people signed up for the program and about 125 use it monthly.
Cummings was concerned that, among other issues, needles were being handed out in too large a quantity and were littering alleys, parks and other public areas. Cummings, and some other law enforcement officials, were also concerned that the range of items in the needle exchange kits went too far toward enabling users
Some pointed out, in fact, that people found in possession of the kits could be arrested for illegal possession of drug paraphernalia.
Whether in reaction to The Herald Bulletin editorial or of their own volition, the health department and the prosecutor did reach a compromise: The needle exchange would become a true one-for-one, with fresh needles doled out only to match the number of used needles returned.
Also, a small metal cooker would be added back to the needle exchange kit but tourniquets would be removed from the kit. This followed the logic that shared metal cookers would be more apt to spread disease than tourniquets would.
This compromise, in the estimation of many, cooled the simmering debate over the needle exchange program; however, less than a week later, the Madison County Council effectively nullified the compromise by voting 5-2 to not appropriate $15,000 in funding for the needle exchange.
That move would have been questionable even before the compromise was reached. After the compromise, it's a real head-scratcher.
The council's vote put the needle exchange on hold, but local public health experts are hoping it can be revived. The county commissioners, who approved the program in the first place, are in their corner. They contend the council, a fiscal body, overstepped its bounds by straying into policy-making, the purview of the board of commissioners.
Also, there's the possibility that a local nonprofit or other organization could step forward to fund the needle exchange.
Meanwhile, the county jail is overwhelmed with opioid offenders and the use of heroin and other drugs in the community shows no signs of relenting.
In the absence of a needle exchange program, keep your fingers crossed that an outbreak of HIV or hepatitis C, like the outbreak that plagued Scott County a few years ago, doesn't happen here.