A short-term needle exchange program approved by Gov. Mike Pence saw a “significant increase” in the number of HIV cases more than two weeks ago, stated on Friday by state health officials.
A statement released by Indiana State Department of Health said 120 confirmed HIV cases and 10 preliminary positive cases have been linked to Scott County, 30 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky, up from 106 the previous week.
Declared an epidemic just last month by health officials, the number of HIV cases have risen as more people are tested positive. The increasing number may place pressure on Pence for an extension of the 30-day needle exchange program he sanctioned March 26.
Health officials reports and recommendations are being reviewed by Pence whether to extend the program beyond April 25, according to Kara Brooks on Friday.
Health officials said the outbreak from Scott County transpired amid intravenous drug users and involves the usage of the painkiller Opana, with the county typically seeing around 5 new cases of HIV yearly.
5,322 clean syringes were provided to 86 contributors, since Pence approval of the temporary needle exchange and about 1,400 used syringes have been surrendered, reported health officials Friday.
A mobile unit has been traversing the neighborhoods looking for IV drug users to get into the program, and this was probably the reason the needle-exchange program had “really picked up a lot this week”, according to Brittany Combs, public health nurse for the Scott County Health Department.
Though, the future of the Scott County program, and also the legislation that would allow needle-exchange programs in other countries, is not yet clear.
Pence has opposed needle exchanges as an anti-drug program. David Long, Senate President Pro Tem said last Thursday that the emergency exchange for Scott County was “the right reaction” but wasn’t sure if it is the correct approach long-term. Nor was he sure whether the Senate would support legislation sponsored by House Public Health Committee Chairman Ed Clere, R-New Albany, that would allow the 23 Indiana counties with the highest rate-per-population of hepatitis C to establish their own needle-exchange programs.
Between 50 percent and 90 percent of people with HIV who uses intravenous drugs also have hepatitis C. According to Health officials, high rates of hepatitis C are a key gauge of needle-sharing and a potential HIV outbreak because of this.