SCOTTSBURG, Ind. — Earlier this month, the city council in Austin, Ind. voted in favor of a safe syringe program. It was the first step in establishing an exchange with the countywide program set to expire Dec. 31.
In June, Scott County commissioners voted to end the county's program, which provides access and disposal of sterile needles, naloxone, recovery services and other medical services.
The program was credited with slowing a major HIV outbreak in 2015.
"We made national news when we had our outbreak and people just want to move past it, they feel like it was a huge black eye," Kelly Hans said of the vote.
Hans works as the program director for Thrive, a recovery organization. She previously worked for the Scott County Health Department but left that job this summer to advocate for access to syringe exchange programs.
Hans and others found that Indiana cities have the option to establish their own programs. They started pushing Austin's city council to understand the benefits of creating a program there.
"People think it's enabling someone to keep using," she said. "But really what we do is enable someone to start making better decisions for themselves."
In early November, the council voted in favor of a safe syringe program. Hans said the city still needs to find an operator for the program, approved by the council and the state health department.
She said she hopes a new nonprofit, recently launched in Southern Indiana, will be able to fill the need.
Phil Stucky, executive director for Thrive, said it's unlikely the Austin program will get off the ground before the Scott County's program ends at the end of the year.
That leaves a gap for recovery and advocacy groups to fill.
"We have to figure out, in January, how to get our people transported to Clark County or across the river," Stucky said.
Despite the fact that neighboring counties, and even states like Kentucky, have exchanges, Stucky it would be a challenge to coordinate help for the people they care for.
Meanwhile, Hans said the next step is Scottsburg. She hopes to convince the city council there to vote on an exchange as well, to effectively cover the county.
The City of Austin's mayor was unavailable for comment Thursday.