Boone County Prosecutor Addresses Needle Exchange Program

Boone County Prosecutor Todd Meyer said he’s been drafting the following message in his mind over the course of the last six months or so.  After he learned of the discussion had at the Council meeting this past Tuesday, regarding the issue of a needle exchange program, he came to the conclusion that it was time to put my thoughts down in writing and hit the “send” button. The following is that message.

I believe a lesson can be learned from Madison County’s experience.  As I’ve expressed to several of you in the past, I am opposed to a needle exchange program anywhere in Boone County.  I understand such a program has provided communities suffering from an HIV epidemic with certain benefits, however, I am unaware of Boone County having any such HIV problem.

One alarming fact uncovered by the Governor’s Drug Task Force’s Final Report, issued in Dec. 2016, is that heroin use nearly doubled in Scott County after it implemented its needle exchange program (It should be noted Scott County was the first county to implement a needle exchange program due to its documented HIV outbreak). Within the report it states: “Despite these favorable indicators, participants also reported injecting drugs more often between their first and latest trips to the exchange, with the median injection frequency rising from 5 to 9 times per day.”

Fighting the drug problem in our community, like that of any other community in Indiana, boils down to eliminating the supply of and the demand for illicit drugs.  On the supply side, curbing the use of heroin and other illicit drugs in our community starts with putting the drug dealers behind bars and removing them from our community for a lengthy period of time. You can rest assured that law enforcement in Boone County is fighting that battle every day, and we are making positive strides.  However, like the other counties in Indiana, we, as a community, are not doing as much as we can/should be doing in the fight against drugs on the demand side.

In order to completely remove this element from our community we must also dedicate resources to curb the demand side of the illicit drug industry.  My office can prosecute and send drug dealers away all day long, but if a demand for the product remains, more drug dealers will set up shop in our community to provide a supply for the demand – and the vicious cycle will continue.  We must address the demand side of illicit drugs in order to put an end to the vicious cycle.  A needle exchange program does not help in fighting the demand side, in fact, it will do the exact opposite by providing the users/addicts with the tools they need to continue to abuse illicit drugs – as evidenced by what I mentioned above that happened in Scott County where heroin use nearly doubled.  As opposed to needle exchange, what I propose we should be focusing on in trying to eliminate the use/demand for illicit drugs in our community is providing treatment/programming for the user/addict.  In many instances, such treatment is made possible following a user/addict’s arrest and prosecution. But, while arrest and prosecution plays a part in fighting the demand, it is not the solution – short term and long term treatment and programming is.

In Boone County we are fortunate to have a jail treatment program (short term) that has demonstrated tremendous success.  In fact, it has been used as a model throughout the State of Indiana. This short term program has a proven track record in accomplishing positive results and county leadership should continue to support it in whatever ways possible in order to sustain the program and grow the program to where such a model might reach those users/addicts who are not caught up in the criminal justice system, but so desperately need help.  As far as long term treatment/programming goes, like so many counties, if not all of them throughout the State, we do not have adequate treatment facilities/programs for users/addicts after their release from incarceration, nor do we have adequate treatment facilities/programs for users/addicts looking for help who are not engaged in the criminal justice system.  This is a void I urge all of you to consider filling as I believe it should be a priority of ours, as community leaders, to find ways to provide the treatment drug users/addicts need to overcome the demand for illicit drugs. Working to eliminate the demand side of illicit drug use will not only save and improve the lives of people in our community, it will also work to eliminate the supply side of our drug problem, which in turn will result in all kinds of positive outcomes for our community through the removal of all the bad stuff on the periphery that comes along with having drug dealers and illicit drug use in a community.

Related to this discussion, I have also attached to this message a position paper issued by the Indiana Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Inc. (of which I am a board member) that very clearly and succinctly sets forth the position of Indiana’s prosecutors on the issue of fighting Indiana’s opiate epidemic. As your elected prosecutor you can count on me to do what I can through my office to combat the supply side of our community’s drug problem by aggressively prosecuting drug dealers in order to put them out of business and behind bars.

As a part of this effort I will be working with other Indiana prosecutors and our legislature to strengthen Indiana’s laws and the consequences associated with drug dealing.  But, fighting the good fight on the supply side will not accomplish the mission of eviscerating the illicit drug problem in Boone County.  To that end, I will also do whatever I can in my position as prosecutor to assist in what must be a community effort to deal with the demand side of our community’s illicit drug problem.  As I’ve outlined, the solution I propose is providing dedicated resources to drug treatment and programming on both a short and long term basis.  It is a tall task, but I believe, if we come together as a community we can accomplish this mission and in the end we will save lives and make Boone County a better and safer community.   Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions/comments or would like to discuss this or any other issue with me in greater detail.