Indiana's rural Scott County, currently the epicenter of an HIV outbreak, received approval last week to operate the first needle-exchange program allowed under a new state law.
A needle exchange had already been established under a temporary public-health-emergency executive order issued by Republican Gov. Mike Pence. However, the state's epidemiologist, Pam Pontones, said last week that the order was set to expire May 24 and Pence would not renew it. Pence had previously overridden state law and his own anti-drug policies in an effort to help contain HIV infections in the economically depressed community in southeast Indiana.
Under a new law that took effect immediately after Pence signed it May 5, county public health departments can operate needle exchanges for one year when there is a declared public health emergency involving drug-related HIV or hepatitis C outbreaks. In Scott County, the intent is to have a smooth transition from a state operation to local control without any interruption in service.
Since opening March 30, a community outreach center in Austin has collected 14,981 used needles and distributed 16,952 new ones. There are now 159 confirmed cases and one preliminary diagnosis of HIV in Scott County, with 95% of those cases related to sharing needles while injecting the painkiller oxymorphone. Nearly 90% of those individuals are also infected with hepatitis C. Previously, only three HIV cases had been reported over the past four years.