Tag: Opana

Indiana’s HIV Outbreak Gets Worse

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.

indiana hiv state of emergency

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.

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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.

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Rise in HIV Linked to Painkiller Abuse

A Tragic Situation in Indiana

The last four months have seen an unfortunate and unprecedented rise in HIV cases in Indiana. Officials say the twenty-seven confirmed cases, and ten additional preliminary cases, are largely due to IV painkiller abuse.

Indiana HIV

Since early December, painkiller addicts in the midwest have been sharing contaminated syringes. These dirty needles have, in turn, transmitted close to thirty confirmed cases of HIV. Some local officials believe unsafe sexual practices have also contributed to a number of cases.

The cause of this recent outbreak is Opana, a powerful opioid drug. Opana, which goes by the chemical name oxymorphone, is six to eight times stronger than morphine. That also makes it two to three times stronger than heroin. To say southern Indiana is in the midst of a twofold epidemic, drug abuse and HIV, is no stretch.

The counties hit the worst are all located in southeastern Indiana, on the border of Kentucky. Clark, Jackson, Perry, Scott, and Washington counties are the epicenter of this outbreak.

Dr. Jerome Adams, the State Health Commissioner, had the following to say about the increasing number of HIV cases and their link to IV pain pill abuse,

“Because prescription drug abuse is at the heart of this outbreak, we are not only working to identify, contact and test individuals who may have been exposed, but also to connect community members to resources for substance abuse treatment and recovery” (CBS Chicago).

Do needle exchanges help addicts or perpetrate addiction?

Drug Related HIV

Dr. Adams is absolutely correct about Indiana’s HIV outbreak. It isn’t so much a matter of unsafe sexual practices, it’s more a matter of unsafe injection practices.

State officials have been quick to note that Opana itself isn’t inherently spreading HIV. The pill itself isn’t infected. Rather, Opana addicts sharing syringes are spreading the virus. Dr. Shane Avery believes a lack of education lies at the heart of Indiana’s outbreak.

He recently told the Indy Star, “It’s probably easier to get ahold of the Opana than it is the needles. This sounds almost unbelievable, but the issue is education… So many of them don’t appreciate or understand the dangers of sharing needles” (Indy Star).

What makes this particular cluster of HIV infections noteworthy is their link to prescription drugs rather than “traditional” drugs like heroin or cocaine. Users injecting Opana, or for that matter OxyContin and other opioid painkillers, are more likely to bleed and sustain open wounds for longer.

This is due, in no small part, to Opana manufactures making their drug “abuse-proof.” The unfortunate upshot of “abuse-proof” pain pills is that when shrewd addicts do figure out a way to abuse them, they’re putting themselves at risk. They’re injecting a dangerous combination of the drug itself, fillers, gel, and other abuse-deterrents.

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Another byproduct of abusing painkillers, and one that may have contributed to Indiana’s rise in HIV infections, is the perceived safety of prescription medication. Although heroin, cocaine, and meth have long been linked to HIV, painkillers haven’t.

Dr. Jan Scaglione, a clinical toxicologist at the Cincinnati Drug and Poison Information Center, said that IV Opana users might have been unaware of the need for clean syringes. The Indy Star reports,

“Heroin users have long been cautioned about the need to use clean needles. But those involved with this outbreak might not have been aware of the need — or thought they were safe because they were using a licensed pharmaceutical and knew those with whom they shared the needle” (Indy Star).

Indiana’s solution, which is still very much being implemented, is to educate those at risk. State health officials have begun to educate IV drug users about the importance of never reusing syringes and making sure syringes are properly sterilized before injecting drugs. State health officials have also begun to offer harm reduction services.

These measures should help tremendously to slow and hopefully stop Indiana’s HIV outbreak.

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