An Indiana county at the heart of an HIV outbreak has seen a “significant increase” in the number of cases more than two weeks into a short-term needle exchange program, state health officials said. There are now 120 confirmed H.I.V. cases and 10 preliminary positive cases tied to Scott County, the Indiana State Department of Health said on Friday. This is extremely high for a county which typically sees five HIV cases per year. All of these cases are attributed to intravenous drug use, primarily of the high powered prescription painkiller Opana, in this economically depressed region.
On March 26th, the governor of Indiana approved a 30 day needle-exchange program in Scott County. Since then, 5,322 clean syringes have been provided to 86 participants, health officials said Friday. About 1,400 used syringes have been returned. There is growing pressure to extend the time period for this program and the chairman of the House Public Health Committee, Representative Ed Clere, sponsored legislation that would allow the 23 Indiana counties with the highest rates of Hepatitis C to establish their own needle exchange programs.The measure is scheduled for a hearing on Monday in a House-Senate conference committee, which will try to work out a final version for lawmakers to consider before the legislature’s April 29 adjournment deadline.
Mr. Clere said the exchange program should be viewed as “a proven and effective harm-reduction policy,” not as an antidrug policy and that the current 30-day, one county needle exchange program “doesn’t help in other areas of the state that are at risk for a similar outbreak. It’s just not enough.”