After months of struggling to secure a location, the Tippecanoe County Health Department plans to inaugurate a needle exchange program in its building this Friday.
The program comes nearly a year after a public health emergency was issued for the county.
The program will operate Friday afternoons in the health department’s office – but officials say the department’s ultimate goal is to establish at least two locations to combat the county’s hepatitis C crisis.
Those locations would safely dispose of used needles and trade them for clean ones to prevent the spread of disease.
County Public Health Nursing Supervisor Khala Hochstedler says their own office was the only place the program could go.
“We had to do something,” Hochstedler says. “I mean, we’re seven months, eight months out from when we declared a public health emergency – so we need to respond.”
Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski and Lafayette Police Chief Pat Flannelly have opposed the needle exchange, saying they worry drug users will surge into the county and negatively affect area neighborhoods.
Hochstedler says the department still wants to find additional locations in the community, and contends the office is allowed to be used, even though state law says taxpayer dollars cannot fund such programs.
“At this time, this is our only option,” Hochstedler says. “We are still pursuing other options – we’d still like to have a mobile unit and a one-stop shop.”
At a panel discussion in June, county health officer Jeremy Adler said a mobile unit is already fully-equipped, but stop locations haven’t been approved.
The syringe exchange will be open Fridays at the county health department’s Sixth Street office from 1-3:30 p.m. It will also offer testing, treatment and insurance resources.