Needle Exchange Program Extended in Indiana, Established in Kentucky

Since March 26, when last reported on the Scott County, Indiana, spike in HIV cases, another 58 people linked to that county have tested positive for HIV. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the county, which normally sees about five HIV infections a year, has had 135 people diagnosed with HIV so far this year. The outbreak has largely been caused by intravenous drug users sharing needles to inject a powerful painkiller, oxymorphone (Opana).

The initial epidemic led Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who generally opposes needle exchange programs, to approve a 30-day emergency clean syringe program for Scott County only. On April 20, he extended that program for another 30 days, The New York Times reported. That move was welcomed by Dr. Kevin Burke, the public health officer who oversees HIV testing in southeastern Indiana, although Dr. Burke had hoped for a longer extension, according to the newspaper.

A recent report by amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, provides data on this issue: With a population of 24,000, Scott County has seen almost twice as many new HIV diagnoses during the first three months of this year than the estimated 100,000 intravenous drug users in New York City saw during the same period. By contrast, when syringe services programs (SSPs) were expanded in New York City in the early 1990s, new HIV infections among intravenous drug users fell from 54% of HIV cases in 1990 to 13% of such cases in 2001.

Meanwhile, Indiana House Public Health Committee Chairman Ed Clere is sponsoring legislation that would allow the 23 Indiana counties with the highest per capita rates of hepatitis C (HCV) to establish needle exchange programs. "We simply can't afford to view this as a short-term problem," Clere said according to The New York Times. In anticipation of that law, Allen County, Indiana, is planning its own needle exchange program, reports.

According to the amfAR report, the CDC had recently warned about a spike in HIV/HCV diagnoses in Indiana and Kentucky. Louisville, Kentucky, has now acted on that warning and approved a needle exchange program, WLKY reports.