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IN Declares HIV Outbreak A Public Health Emergency

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hiv-outbreakSince January, one county in Indiana has seen more than 20 times as many HIV cases as it typically sees in an entire year – and the number of infected patients is expected to rise. The HIV outbreak has been dubbed an epidemic and is believed to be linked directly to intravenous drug use and needle sharing.

HIV Outbreak and IV Drug Use

Scott County, Indiana, located about 30 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky, is home to about 24,000 residents. Until recently, the number of new HIV cases in the area averaged just five per year. As of mid-April, Scott County has 106 HIV-positive cases.

This public health crisis is being blamed on drug use, and has been linked specifically to a liquid painkiller called Opana. Officials say that most of the HIV infections that have been reported were contracted by injecting the drug and sharing a syringe with other individuals.

“If someone who’s highly infectious becomes part of that sharing network, that infection can transmit very rapidly,” explained Indiana epidemiologist Pam Pontones.

A controversial but desperate measure

State Governor Mike Pence has opened up an anonymous needle exchange program in hopes to curb the number of infected HIV patients – despite the fact that such programs are currently barred in the state.

“This is a public health emergency and I’m listening to my health department, I’m listening to the Centers for Disease Control,” said Pence. “I’ll make my decision based on the best science and the best way we can stop this virus and stop this outbreak in its tracks.”

Still, Pence and his team made it clear that this is a desperate measure, and it was not in line with his policy views.

Deputy state health commissioner Jennifer Walthall said he agreed to “…a focused, limited program for the sole purpose of addressing this epidemic in Scott County.” She went on to explain that the governor still publicly supports the state law, and is against enacting these kinds of programs in general. “Governor Pence opposes needle exchange as anti-drug policy,” said Walthall. “He stands by current law.

Getting help for the root cause

Though needles exchanges can and do reduce the spread of diseases like HIV and hepatitis, the root issue that needs to be addressed is the disease of addiction. In the wake of the outbreak, Indiana has launched a public awareness campaign about the issue that includes a focus on drug treatment.

As addiction spreads throughout the country, overdose and behavioral problems are clearly not the only health risks. Addiction is a disease that requires intervention and professional help. And the scary situation in Scott County, Indiana is a prime example of what happens as it spirals out of control.

If you are struggling with drug addiction or alcoholism, or if you are looking for support to get help for a loved one who is, contact The Watershed today. We’re here 24/7: 1-800-861-1768.

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