State considering needle exchange to curb HIV outbreak

Published 12:30 pm Wednesday, March 25, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS – The state may launch an emergency needle exchange program to respond to a growing HIV crisis in Southeast Indiana, the public health commissioner said in an interview.

Dr. Jerome Adams is meeting with officials in Scott County today to discuss details of a temporary program and whether local leaders are ready to implement it to slow the fast-spreading virus that causes AIDS.

“The governor is considering a needle exchange program,” Adams said this morning.

The outbreak in and around Scott County has counted 72 confirmed cases of HIV since December, said Kevin Burke, health officer in neighboring Clarke County who oversees HIV testing in the region. Most cases are linked to contaminated needles shared by intravenous drug users.

The numbers are expected to increase into the double-digits.

Adams, a medical doctor, said Gov. Mike Pence opposes a total lifting of the state’s ban on needle-exchange programs, which provide clean needles to drug users. But Pence may consider a temporary, targeted program triggered by the current crisis.

Adams said needle exchanges endorsed by the American Medical Association and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have slowed the spread of HIV in other communities.

The most effective programs, he said, are embraced by the community and key stakeholders including doctors and police.

“The most appropriate intervention is the one that’s going to work in that area,” he said. “It’s not going to work if it’s not accepted by the people down there.”

Health officials and law enforcement in Scott County have publicly pleaded for the state to allow them to implement a needle exchange program, as the number of HIV cases have rapidly increased. Health officials said the outbreak is the largest in state history.

Adams said Pence is expected to issue an executive order today or tomorrow that will direct more resources to Scott County.