Fairbanks supports Indianapolis syringe exchange program

Earlier this morning, Fairbanks representatives stood with Dr. Virginia A. Caine, M.D. – director of the Marion County Public Health Department and all five Marion County health systems – in support of a declaration of a hepatitis C state of emergency. This state of emergency allows counties to implement syringe exchange programs. We appreciated the invitation to stand with Dr. Caine and others, demonstrating our support and leadership.

A significant transmission of hepatitis C and HIV comes from the sharing and reuse of needles used to inject heroin, opioids or other illegal drugs. Syringe exchange programs have proven to be the most effective method available to reduce the spread of hepatitis C and HIV. At Fairbanks, we are in support of Safe Syringe, a medically-necessary syringe exchange program in Marion County.

Studies show that participants in a syringe exchange program are five times more likely to enter drug treatment than Injecting Drug Users (IDUs) who do not participate in the program. Indeed, engaging addicted individuals in a safe setting increases participation in treatment programs.

Marion County experienced 1,000 new hepatitis C cases in 2017. From a baseline of 0.6 per 100,000 population, the county had an increase to 7.6 per 100,000 that year. HIV cases also grew. Newly reported instances decreased from 2011 to ’15 but have risen ever since. Last year the rate per 100,000 was 25.3, up from 20 in 2015.

After a syringe exchange program was launched in Scott County, Ind., in 2015 – following an outbreak of hepatitis C and HIV cases – more than a thousand people participated and approximately 95 percent of needles were returned to the program.

As well, the Safe Syringe program is expected to save the public money and improve health and safety. A single HIV case can cost between $54,000 to $300,000 to treat. For hepatitis C, it’s $60,000-$80,000. A clean syringe costs less than 10 cents. A syringe exchange program requires no additional tax dollars and is estimated to save Marion County taxpayers and healthcare providers $193 million in HIV treatment costs annually.

Safe Syringe requires the approval of the Indianapolis City-County Council before it can be implemented. If it does pass, it would be the largest syringe exchange program in Indiana.