After HIV Spike, Drug Warrior Governor Grants Limited Temporary Needle Exchange

by | Mar 30, 2015


Indiana Governor Mike Pence on Thursday issued an executive order (EO 15-05) declaring a “public health disaster emergency” in Scott County in southeastern Indiana due to an epidemic of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the county. The extraordinary measures allowed under the executive order include permitting the Scott County Board of Health to seek the state government’s permission to design and administer a short-term needle exchange program for the sole purpose of suppressing the HIV epidemic in Scott County.

The Republican governor’s executive order further says that all 79 HIV cases the Indiana State Department of Health has confirmed in Scott County since December “directly relate to intravenous drug use.” According to the executive order, no more than five confirmed HIV cases, irrespective of how transmitted, are expected yearly in the county.

If you are in one of Indiana’s 91 other counties and wish to access new, clean needles to protect yourself from infection, tough. (Less than half of one percent of Indiana residents live in Scott County.) Yet, people outside Scott County will be no less dead or debilitated because of infections they receive from using old, dirty needles.

Pence has a war on drugs to fight, and wars have casualties.

Transferring new, clean needles and injecting drugs into your body are nonviolent acts that, due to politicians like Pence, are declared a legal crime punishable by fines and incarceration. Meanwhile, there are no negative repercussions for the perpetrators, including Pence, of the moral crime of the drug war that is responsible for monumental pain, suffering, and death, including because of the transmission of infections through shared needles.

Eight years ago, as a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives from Indiana, Pence voted for an amendment that sought to prohibit needle exchange in Washington, DC, which has long had a high prevalence of HIV. Indeed, Pence still opposes needle exchanges. Shari Rudavsky reports at the Indianapolis Star that Pence, in announcing his executive order, said he is only making “an exception” to his “long-standing opposition to needle exchange programs.”

Pence’s drug warrior attitude extends beyond wanting to prevent people from using new, clean needles. He also is doing his best to slow Indiana’s participation in the trend of states and local governments decreasing marijuana penalties and even ending marijuana prohibition. For example, Brandon Smith of Indiana Public Radio notes Pence expressed concern in 2013 that state legislation to reduce a list of criminal penalties “was not tough enough on drug crimes” resulting in the bill being altered so marijuana penalty reductions would be less than the penalty reductions for other crimes.

Of course, a needle exchange program run by local, state, or US government bureaucrats is not the optimal means to respect dug users’ freedom and protect their health. New, clean needles should be legal for anyone to own; any store to sell; and any individual, business, or charitable organization to give away. And, if you really value people’s freedom and health, the drugs injected through the needles should be legal to use, possess, transfer, and sell as well. Just don’t hold your breath for a drug warrior like Pence to support such changes.


  • Adam Dick

    Adam worked from 2003 through 2013 as a legislative aide for Rep. Ron Paul. Previously, he was a member of the Wisconsin State Board of Elections, a co-manager of Ed Thompson's 2002 Wisconsin governor campaign, and a lawyer in New York and Connecticut.

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