Wayne County’s syringe exchange program will apparently continue for another two years.

County commissioners established support April 26 to extend the program that began in August 2016; however, Ron Cross, the county’s attorney, will draft a resolution before commissioners take their final vote. Christine Stinson, executive director of the Wayne County Health Department, presented April 12 her extension request for the syringe services program that includes the exchange.

Stinson’s presentation, with support from Indiana State Department of Health officials, indicated the program has impacted the spread of HIV and hepatitis C while also referring people to drug treatment, providing medical tests and services, identifying pregnant women needing pre-natal care and distributing Narcan that reverses overdoses and saves lives.

Commissioner Mary Anne Butters, an ardent supporter since the program’s inception, moved to extend the program the maximum two years. Commissioner Jeff Plasterer seconded the motion and expressed his support, but no vote was taken.

“I have wrestled with this,” Plasterer said. “There are pros and cons with this.”

He noted the opposition Sheriff Randy Retter expressed during the April 12 meeting, including the problems distribution of syringes for illegal activity cause law enforcement, and opposition from others in law enforcement and the justice system. Plasterer noted that the program has increased testing for HIV and hepatitis C and found more cases.

“There’s some benefit simply from finding that disease and being able to treat it,” he said “I think the net result is a positive for public health in Wayne County, and for that reason, I will support the two-year extension.”

Commissioner Brad Dwenger, a reserve officer with the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, said he will vote against the extension. He said his own research and his conversations with the sheriff, Chief Mike Britt of Richmond Police Department and Prosecutor Mike Shipman did not establish the program’s success in his view.

Dwenger said law enforcement officers deal with needles daily, which threatens their safety, and said many of those needles come from the exchange.

“My biggest objection to it is it’s still illegal, whether we give them needles or not, if they’re used for drug use,” Dwenger said.

During their afternoon session April 26, commissioners unanimously voted to implement a new mental health aspect to their Swift MD telehealth program. This occurred during a discussion with Cathy Dunn of Dunn & Associates, the county’s healthcare benefits administrator, about healthcare insurance renewal.

The mental health program costs $1.25 per month per employee enrolled in the county’s healthcare program. All of an employee’s covered family members may use the service.

The addition would cost about $3,825 a year based on the current healthcare benefit enrollment number.

Commissioners also unanimously voted to renew beginning July 1 with their current healthcare insurance provider, Crum & Forster. Dunn recommended the aggregate policy bid of $4,994,534 that’s about $418,000 lower than the bid for the year ending June 30.

It’s the second consecutive year the insurance premiums will drop.

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A version of this article appeared in the May 3 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Mike Emery is a reporter and layout editor for the Western Wayne News.