TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) — Local law enforcement has its concerns when it comes to the Tippecanoe County Needle Exchange Program and police say we can't be handing out needles without strict accountability.
"Everybody wants to see a reduction in Hep C and HIV," says Lafayette Chief of Police Patrick Flannelly.
But police say without tougher restrictions, this needle exchange program is going to do more harm than good.
"We are enabling people, currently through this program to do drugs in our community," West Lafayette Police Chief Jason Dombkowski said.
Take, for instance, this September case in Tapawingo Park.
"Seventy syringes, a complete drug kit in their possession, Narcan in their possession, all from the Health Department, uncapped needles, seven of them laying on the ground in the park is not something that is control based and it is not something that is safe for our community," explained Dombkowski.
So far, the Tippecanoe County Needle Exchange Program has 83 participants and has given away 4,475 free needles. As the number of participants increase, so will the number of needles.
"In the month of June alone, the Health Department in Monroe County, Bloomington, handed out 30,000 needles — 30,000. In a community that's similar to ours, and they received 20,000 back that month," said Dombkowski.
In Bloomington, Indiana, a storm drain was found clogged with needles (see image above). Right now, West Lafayette's storm drains don't look like that, but Chief Jason Dombkowski worries a needle exchange program with no accountability might change that.
"Forty-five hundred needles being handed out in our community and still have 2,200 out there claiming a 93 percent exchange rate is not a one-for-one exchange," said Dombkowski.
But the Health Department says that can't happen.
"One-for-one exchanges can often fall short in terms of disease prevention because you have to have a little bit of leeway for the human factor," Tippecanoe County Health Officer Dr. Jeremy Adler said. "I mentioned the average return rate for syringe exchange programs is 80 percent and probably no program in the country would have a 100 percent return rate."
Lafayette Police Chief Patrick Flannelly says if we're going to have a needle exchange program, he'd like to see every county get one.
"So that way, we have somewhere local to go, so we can direct people to resources locally so we don't create hubs where people will come," Flannelly explained.
He's trying to get rid of the drug trade here. Not add to it. "Anything that can be used in the drug trade eventually becomes a commodity and it can be traded and sold and bartered for drugs. Needles are a part of that equation," he added.
But in order to solve this problem, it's going to take some collaboration.
"Hopefully we are starting to have those conversations and starting to iron out some of those issues," said Adler.
Flannelly said, "We definitely want to partner and find ways to make sure that we keep this safe for everybody. For me, I think one of the best ways that we do that is just reduce the number of needles that are in circulation to begin with."
Dr. Jeremy Adler says we won't see proof of HIV and Hepatitis C decreases for quite some time. That's because more people are being tested, but also this program takes awhile to start making a significant difference.
But it's images like the one above that make law enforcement wonder if this program is worth the wait.