The Tippecanoe County Commissioners voted Monday to endorse a plan to establish a syringe exchange and services program aimed at reducing the spread of hepatitis C among intravenous drug users.
But Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski vented his frustrations after the vote.
One by one, doctors, addiction treatment professionals, researchers, church leaders and a captain from the Fort Wayne police department stepped to the podium to tell the commissioners why Tippecanoe County should create a syringe services program.
Amid clinical data about the spread of hepatitis C and efficacy of syringe exchanges came an emotional plea for action from county resident Rhonda Stein, who says her 25-year old son died 4 and-a-half years ago when he overdosed on prescription drugs that treat pain and anxiety.
“I find myself getting angry and frustrated when we continue to talk about the same issues we discussed four years ago, meanwhile 188,000 more deaths have occurred,” Stein says.
But Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski and Police Chief Pat Flannelly say they're concerned a syringe services program would attract intravenous drug users from other counties and negatively impact the neighborhood where it's located.
Flannelly says he can’t support a syringe exchange and services program until questions about the location, staffing and treatment services, as well as data from established programs are available.
“What I am concerned about is initiating a needle exchange program without a full understanding of how the program’s going to be run, how it’s going to be managed and what are some of the unintended consequences that I’m sure we’re going to experience from this program,” Flannelly says.
Commissioner Tom Murtaugh says he agrees, and cast the lone vote against the resolution.
After it passed with support from commissioners Tracy Brown and David Byers, Roswarski directed his frustration at the IU Health Arnett physicians who spoke in support of a syringe services program.
“You guys ought to do it there as opposed to in one of my neighborhoods,” Roswarski says. “We’re full. We’ve got all that we can handle. And if all the doctors are for it, both the hospitals, it would be great if it was hosted in a medical facility as a public health issue.”
IU Health Arnett Vice President James Bien says he’ll carry the mayor’s message back to his supervisors.
“I’ll say Mayor Roswarski challenged us to consider if we should be a site for distribution, and should we play a tangible role in this,” Bien says.
Lafayette has been fighting a drug-fueled crime spike in recent years and city police fear drug users from other counties will flock to Lafayette if there are no other needle exchanges nearby.
West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis says he supports the program.
County Health Officer Jeremy Adler says the request for a syringe services program will be forwarded to the Indiana State Department of Health. Also, his staff will be working with community leaders to obtain funding and develop details of the program.