Trump Surgeon General Pick: Needle Exchanges Ugly, But Vital

Jun 30, 2017

Mere days before he announced he had been nominated for the position of U.S. Surgeon General, Indiana State Department of Health Commissioner Jerome Adams penned an op-ed  for the USA Today newspaper network outlining his commitment to harm reduction initiatives, most notably syringe exchange programs.

"Syringe exchanges aren't pretty," Adams writes. "They make people uncomfortable. But the opioid epidemic is far uglier."

Adams also used the piece to trumpet an argument he's grown accustomed to making in sometimes-conservative Indiana communities: That syringe exchanges don't contribute to bumps in crime rates:

Syringe service programs do not increase drug use and in fact do the opposite. Studies have found that people who participate in syringe exchanges are up to five times more likely to enter treatment for substance use disorder than people who inject drugs but don’t participate in a syringe service program. Syringe exchanges also are proven to help reduce the incidence of injection. In Scott County, a study by the CDC and Indiana State Department of Health found significant reductions of injection-related risk behaviors after the syringe service program opened.

There are currently eight functioning syringe exchanges programs in the state, although some are more well-received than others. Madison County's program faces opposition from its county council, and in Tippecanoe County, an exchange has been approved but locals are playing hot-potato when it comes to finding a location. 

Health commissioner: Syringe exchanges not easy but save lives

The national opioid epidemic threatens to unravel two decades of progress toward reducing the spread of HIV. This is an outcome Indiana cannot afford. Since 2015, 219 people in rural Scott County have been diagnosed with HIV, and nearly 95 percent of those individuals are co-infected with hepatitis C.