Medical community should take larger role in needle exchange, some say

Some neighbors living near the needle exchange program in Lafayette say it's time for the medical community to step up.

Posted: Dec. 5, 2017 6:02 PM
Updated: Dec. 5, 2017 6:16 PM

TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) — Some neighbors living near the needle exchange program in Lafayette say it's time for the medical community to step up.

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As we've previously reported, the North Sixth Street location has neighbors feeling anxious about the crowd it's attracting and the possibility of finding dirty needles in the area.

Here's what local hospitals are saying.
"I'd say we are concerned about the same thing they are," said Terry Wilson, President and CEO of Franciscan Health.

But Michael O. Hunt says that's not fair. He lives right down the street from the needle exchange program and thinks since it's a medical emergency, hospitals like IU or Franciscan Health should take on the burden.

"It has to be on the goodwill of the medical community and they want a needle exchange, but they don't want to dirty their hands," said Hunt.

But Wilson isn't convinced needle exchange programs actually reduce the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C.

"And I talked to Dr. Adler about that when he first called me and I hope that as long as there is a needle exchange we are trying to measure that," said Wilson.

"It is frustrating and it does make sense from my standpoint to have the program affiliated with medical providers," said Dr. Jeremy Adler, Tippecanoe County Health Officer.

IU Health is allowing the mobile needle exchange unit to park here on Salem Street in this lot one Saturday per month but check out how close that is to the Franciscan Health's Central location.

"We're responsible for the safety and health and welfare of everybody on our hospital campuses," said Wilson.

That's why Wilson says they'll be watching that area closely, making sure that parking lot and campus is secure.

He explained, "By definition, this invited a cohort group of people onto those campuses that I think are unpredictable, that are by definition engaged in illegal activity."

IU Health wouldn't say if it plans to expand its current relationship with the needle exchange but Dr. James Bien says it will continue supporting the program in an effort to combat the growing epidemic of Hep C.

Hunt says he's glad IU is offering a parking lot but said, "That doesn't cut it."

He hopes it does more to help. But Wilson says Franciscan isn't a likely candidate, especially since it goes against the hospital's ethics.

"For those reasons, we continue to play the role we've always played in the emergency department with TEAS in our hospitals to care for people whether they can pay us or not, they're cared for here and we think that's our role," said Wilson.

Adler says he will continue working to find a different permanent location for the program.

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