Scott County health officials asking state to continue needle ex - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Scott County health officials asking state to continue needle exchange program

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AUSTIN, Ind. (WDRB) -- Scott County is asking the state to keep its needle exchange program up and running for another year. 

Austin, Ind., is considered ground zero for an HIV outbreak that's affected nearly 200 people. That's why the county's needle exchange program is based in this small city. 

"We feel it's very critical," said Patti Hall, Scott Co. Health Department Preparedness Coordinator. 

The program started in the spring of last year, as more and more people were testing positive for the virus. Health experts found it was mostly spreading among IV drug users sharing needles. 

"It's doing what it's supposed to do, which is stop, or at least slow down, the spread of a very infectious disease," Hall said. 

She sent paperwork to the Indiana State Department of Health on Tuesday, asking that the program continue for another year. 

Right now, the needle exchange is only approved to run through the end of May. 

But some are raising concerns. Austin Police Chief Robert Gudgel says his department is getting more calls about dirty needles on the ground. 

"My only concern is public safety at this point," Gudgel told WDRB News. "We need to make sure that those needles are getting accounted for." 

Hall says all needle exchange participants are asked to turn in their dirty needles. 

"We understand that there are a lot of needles on the ground," Hall said. "You're always gonna have that." 

She says people would find needles on the ground, even if the program wasn't around. 

She emphasizes the program is working, not only giving people clean needles but also connecting them to resources. 

"We are providing them hope that they haven't gotten anywhere else," Hall said. 

According to Hall, if the program were to end, Scott County could lose it's handle on the health crisis. 

"We feel it would be a disaster," she said. "The numbers would continue to go up then, and we would be worse off than where we were a year ago." 

County officials say they expect the state to approve their needle exchange for another year. 

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