South Bend Tribune. June 11, 2021.
Editorial: An irresponsible, but not surprising, decision on public health in southern Indiana
The needle exchange program in rural Scott County, Ind. — which helped contain what a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official called “one of the worst documented outbreaks of HIV among IV users in the past two decades” — is coming to an end.
That’s thanks to the vote of county commissioners, who ignored the guidance of health workers and law enforcement officials and the pleas from members of the community — not to mention the evidence that the program works.
Supporters call the program, which offers addicts medical care, testing and people who could assist them in recovery, a model for the rest of the country. Health officials credit it with helping drive down the county’s number of new HIV cases to fewer than five last year.
Among those voicing support for the program is Dr. Jerome Adams, the former U.S. surgeon general who served as Indiana’s health commissioner during the HIV outbreak. Adams has been credited with persuading then-Gov. Mike Pence, a long-time opponent of needle exchange programs, to allow Indiana counties to create such exchanges to contain the spread of the disease.
“We wouldn’t have syringe exchange if it wasn’t for him,” Carrie Lawrence, a public health researcher at Indiana University who helps implement syringe exchange programs throughout the state, said at the time.
Adams wrote on Twitter that he was “heartbroken” by the commissioners’ decision. “I’ve shared toil and tears with the many harm reduction advocates in this community,” he wrote. “We’ve got to keep working to win over hearts and minds.”
Back in 2015, Scott County attracted national attention for the outbreak, which was linked to intravenous drug use. At the time, needle exchange programs, which allow drug users to swap dirty needles for clean ones, were illegal in the state. Pence issued an executive order allowing syringes to be distributed in Scott County. That same year, the legislature passed, and Pence signed, a law that allows counties to apply for syringe exchange programs in Indiana.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorses the programs as a way to reduce harm and prevent people who use intravenous drugs from contracting HIV. According to the World Health Organization, there’s no evidence that needle exchange programs exacerbate “injecting drug use at either the individual or societal level.”
Rick Williams was among several people who said during last week’s meeting that they were once addicted but got treatment through the exchange as they got clean needles.
“It kept me clean,” Williams said. “And it directed me to recovery.”
But in voting to eliminate the program by the end of this year, the southern Indiana commissioners said they don’t want to enable dangerous behavior. One commissioner questioned the extent to which the syringe program drove a dramatic HIV turnaround. Another said he wouldn’t want to supply the needle that someone used to overdose.
The decision leaves health officials worried that another outbreak could happen. Last month, Dr. Kristina Box, Indiana’s health commissioner, said that ending the exchange would inevitably lead to a rise in HIV and hepatitis C cases.
Michelle Matern, administrator of the county’s health department, told The Washington Post that its “extremely disappointing” that calls are being made “by people who are not experts in the health field or public health field.”
That the commissioners would overlook the advice of health experts and the data supporting that advice is outrageous and irresponsible — and it should be shocking. Unfortunately, given the events of the past year, as the country has grappled with a pandemic, it isn’t.
Terre Haute Tribune-Star. June 11, 2021.
Editorial: Joyful return of activity gives community a boost
The return of cornerstone traditions, and good-hearted projects, will help the Terre Haute community feel more hopeful, after enduring 15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Such signs are unfolding this month, and this week, around the city. They are good to see.
One of the most popular and sweetest events on Terre Haute’s calendar is always the First Congregational Church’s Strawberry Fest on Ohio Street downtown. A women’s group at the church, the Mayflower Guild, launched the festival in 1989 as a fundraiser, and it has grown ever since. In recent years, an average of 100 church volunteers have doled out an estimated 10,000 servings of ice cream, biscuits, whipped cream and strawberries at each one-day festival, often accompanied by local music groups.
Pandemic precautions forced the cancelation of last year’s Strawberry Fest, but it made a return Thursday with a “grab-and-go” format that prevented large concentrations of visitors, for public-health reasons.
The tasty treats, and resulting smiles and community camaraderie, are simple doses of inspiration.
Also coming this month is another outdoor event, the HuggieLuvFest on June 19 on the lawn of The Meadows Shopping Center. That event by the Musicians Giving Back organization will raise funds for the Covered With Love Inc. diaper bank. Last year, the musicians staged a “Foodstock” fundraiser for Terre Haute Catholic Charities Foodbank and a “Toystock” for the Toys for Tots effort. Admission will be $10 for the HuggieLuvFest from noon to 9:30 p.m. next Saturday, June 19.
Those two festivals are just a sample of reemerging traditions as COVID-19 vaccinations increase — the key to a return to normalcy for western Indiana, eastern Illinois, the Hoosier state, America and the world.
A peak inspirational moment is also back this weekend — Special Olympics Indiana on the Indiana State University and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology campuses. Since its debut at ISU in 1969, the event has allowed individuals with intellectual disabilities of all types to participate in a variety of athletic competitions.
Last year, though, Special Olympics Indiana had to be conducted virtually. This weekend, the in-person action resumes, with some alterations. Health and safety protocols will be in place, and some events will be adapted to allow distancing. Also, opening and closing ceremonies will be virtual, and routines such as the torch lighting, Parade of Athletes and Victory Dance will not happen this time. Also, scheduling issues prompted the swimming competition to be moved to Indianapolis.
Nonetheless, the return of the athletes, their families and supporters and the activities is welcome in Terre Haute.
“It’s going to be very different, but at least we have the opportunity to come back,” Jodi Moan — the competition director for the Area 7 counties, which includes Vigo — told the Tribune-Star’s Michele Lawson. “I don’t think we realized how much we truly missed it, and we’re just so excited to get back to the games and see the friends we’ve made over the years.”
The same can be said of all the other community traditions that will return this summer and in coming months, as long as more people get vaccinated and those who are not practice the public health protocols. Such celebrations help restore the joy in lives — a great reason to continue the progress of ending the pandemic.
Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. June 13, 2021.
Editorial: Help at hand for police in coping with brutal scenes
It’s the kind of thing you don’t forget. It sticks with you – a silent, dark memory that fades but won’t leave.
Sgt. Chris Felton understands.
The veteran Fort Wayne police officer was one of the first to arrive in September 2016 at 3006 Holton Ave.
It was “a house of horrors,” according to another investigator called to the grisly scene.
There was blood everywhere, and people inside the home were dead or dying.
A local man would later plead guilty in the brutal slayings of four – Consuela Arrington, 37, Traeven Harris, 18, Dajahiona Arrington, 18, and the unborn son named A.J. she was carrying.
A 14-year-old girl also was shot and stabbed but survived, and the man responsible is serving a 300-year prison sentence after avoiding the death penalty by pleading guilty in the attacks.
Felton, now in charge of a Fort Wayne Police Department initiative designed to help officers who have witnessed tough scenes on the job, said in an interview last week he was “fine for a few days, maybe a week” after seeing what he saw on Holton Avenue.
He later broke down and cried in his kitchen, he said.
Coordinator of the department’s Peer Support/Critical Incident Stress Management Team, Felton got through it by talking to other officers who shared the unfortunate challenge of working difficult crime scenes.
The 22-member team that can offer help such as counseling to officers didn’t exist at the time.
“Historically, in law enforcement, (seeking help for) mental health has been taboo,” he said. “It’s starting to be more accepted in law enforcement.”
That’s good, as local police recently have investigated some particularly grim crimes.
Officers in April discovered a man’s body dismembered in the back of a van that crashed through a fence near downtown.
In a separate case this month, three young children and a woman were found stabbed to death in a home on Gay Street – the city’s first quadruple homicide since the Holton Avenue case five years ago.
Nothing should diminish the effects of such heinous crimes on the families of the victims or their communities, but it’s also important to recognize the costs to police who often are among the first to witness what, for most of us, are unimaginable scenes.
A 2019 study published in the journal Salus, which focuses on law enforcement, showed that such work is emotionally demanding and can lead to “post-traumatic stress disorder, work dissatisfaction, depression, burnout, self-criticism and destructive coping strategies.”
Felton, also a member of the FWPD Gang and Violent Crimes Unit, said that can lead to mistakes or excessive force by police, and the Peer Support team offers “psychological first aid” such as information about the emotional effects of such difficult work or offers to meet with a psychologist.
Team members undergo special training through the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation before they begin work and attend two training sessions per year afterward, he said.
“The cumulative stress is really getting (to) officers,” Felton said.
Fortunately, there is a team that works to provide some relief.