HIV Outbreak Goes From Bad to Worse
Not long ago, Lighthouse reported on the rising number of Indiana residents contracting HIV. These cases were all linked back to prescription drug abuse, specifically to injecting the painkiller Opana.
Well things just got worse.
There have been upwards of seventy confirmed cases of HIV since the outbreak started in December and that number is expected to grow. While most cases have been limited to Scott and other counties in the southeastern corner of the state, officials believe this is a statewide problem.
In response to the HIV outbreak, Indiana governor Mike Pence declared a state of emergency. He issued an executive order and put into effect “preventative measures” to help stop the spread of HIV.
What are these measures and why do many Indiana residents believe they’re not enough? Find out below.
How Will Indiana Contain the Outbreak?
In light of the over seventy Scott County residents infected with HIV, Indiana officials have taken some drastic measures. Specifically, Gov. Mike Pence has issued a thirty-day executive order aimed at containing the spread of HIV.
Gov. Pence’s order will include measures like increased addiction treatment, HIV treatment, a needle safety awareness program, and a campaign spreading awareness about HIV, drug abuse, and safe sex. Finally, needle exchange programs will be sanctioned in Scott County.
Needle exchange programs are locations where IV drug users can go and turn in used syringes for new ones. They frequently offer health services like HIV, Hep C, and STD screenings and safe injection practice information.
The governor has made clear that this needle exchange program isn’t here to stay. Rather, it will last thirty-days and is aimed only at stopping the spread of HIV. Pence has also stated that if the state legislature were to pass a law making needle exchange programs legal, he’ll veto it.
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Will This Stop the Spread of HIV?
There are numerous critics of Gov. Pence’s plan. One of these is Beth Meyerson, the Co-Director of the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention. Meyerson believes the governor’s needle exchange program is doomed to failure. She’s stated,
“There’s zero evidence to support the governor’s proposition. His solution is not based on public health science. I appreciate the governor’s flexibility, bit it’s not even close to being an appropriate response” (Uptown Magazine).
Mrs. Meyerson isn’t alone in her critique of Pence’s response to the HIV outbreak. Dr. Kevin Burke, a public health officer from one of the affected counties, believes a thirty-day needle exchange program won’t offer any sort of long-term solution and may not even work in the short-term.
Others believe that those infected with HIV may continue to spread the disease. Jeanni McCarty, office manager at Foundations Family Medicine, described a conversation with one infected woman –
“The young woman came to her recently and confessed that not only did she use intravenous drugs and share needles with those around her, but she helped fund her habit with prostitution. She said she tested positive in January and since then, she estimated, she has had sexual relations with about 75 truck drivers passing through the area” (USA Today).
While that’s a scary thing to think about, it’s also representative of the outbreak as a whole. Sharing contaminated needles directly causes HIV, but there are many other factors to consider. Things like lifestyle factors, how individuals finance their addictions, and even their living situations all need to be taken into account.
There’s no doubt that a thirty-day needle exchange program, paired with increased drug treatment, HIV education and preventative resources, will do tremendous good for Indiana. Still, I can’t help but think that something more is needed.
I’m not sure what that something more is, though. Perhaps Indiana does need a statewide syringe exchange program. Perhaps it simply needs to become proactive, rather than reactionary, about stopping the spread of HIV and other drug borne illnesses.
One thing is very clear though – Indiana needs to do something and Gov. Pence’s thirty-day state of emergency is as good a place as any to start.