ANDERSON – Several people addressed the Madison County Council both for and against the continuation of the needle exchange program, but it appears the council is divided on the next step to take.
Proponents of the program contend it’s the best way to stop the spread of hepatitis C and HIV through the sharing of needles by drug users. Opponents contend it's enabling drug users and the syringes are being found discarded throughout Madison County.
On Tuesday, Councilman Brent Holland introduced an ordinance that would prohibit spending any funds or accepting financial donations to buy syringes or supplies. No vote on the proposed ordinance will be taken until the Aug. 8 meeting.
Several council members questioned the legality of the proposed ordinance, alleging it usurps power from the county commissioners.
The proposed ordinance states no money from grants or donations or monetary value be used to fund the syringe exchange program.
Councilwoman Lisa Hobbs said it was discussed in June that members of the council, the commissioners and Board of Health would meet to draft an ordinance concerning the needle exchange program, which has been operating in the county for two years.
“Do it the way we said,” Hobbs said of drafting an ordinance. “I don’t like parts of the program. But sticking our heads in the sand is not an option.”
Hobbs said the needle exchange program is being operated on donations and the cost of treating hepatitis C is $80,000.
“Show leadership,” Hobbs said to Council President Steve Sumner. “Appoint people. If we’re going to do it, do it right.”
Sumner responded that Holland was going to meet with the council’s attorney to draft the proposed ordinance, one that Holland said is intended to end the program in Madison County.
Councilman Mike Gaskill said any of the seven council members can introduce an ordinance.
“I don’t like the ordinance,” he said. “But he (Holland) was upfront and honest about what he was doing.”
Gaskill said people are passionate about the issue on both sides.
“There are reasonable people with different opinions,” he said. “There are some people who support the program but don’t like the way it is being executed.
“There are multiple bad solutions, we’re picking the least bad,” Gaskill said.
Holland said the use of illegal drugs needs to be addressed.
“We all want the same result. Get rid of the drug problem,” he said.
Dr. Steven Wright, Madison County health officer, said he agrees with both sides in the discussion.
“We don’t have an answer to prevent people from using drugs, but we do have a way to prevent the spread of disease,” he said. “We don’t have a solution to drug abuse.”
Wright said there is proof that clean needles stop the spread of disease.
“Let’s not be the first county to curtail the program,” he said. “The whole state and nation is watching what we do. Let’s not make fools of ourselves.”
Keith Gaskill, a member of the Madison County Drug Task Force, said he doesn’t know many people who think the needle exchange program is a good commonsense approach.
“There should be two primary efforts,” he said. “Hold people accountable for their choices and offer treatment programs.”
Gaskill said when society was dealing with drunken driving the government didn’t offer free rides to and from the taverns.
“We want people to get treatment,” he said.