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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 27, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 13
Indiana HIV epidemic traced to needle-sharing
Section One
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Indiana HIV epidemic traced to needle-sharing

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Indiana Governor Mike Pence declared a public health emergency March 25, after HIV cases 'reached epidemic proportions' in Scott County, in the southern part of the state.

The outbreak was first identified in late January. Since then, officials have diagnosed 79 people with new HIV infections - up from 26 cases just one month ago. The annual average for Scott County is five new HIV cases.

'Scott County is facing an epidemic of HIV, but this is not a Scott County problem; this is an Indiana problem,' the governor said.

'With additional state resources and new tools provided by this emergency declaration, I am confident that together we will stop this HIV outbreak in its tracks.'

State epidemiologist Pam Pontones said almost all of the cases originated from intravenous drug users sharing syringes. A large majority of the victims had shared a needle with an infected person while injecting Opana, a prescription painkiller.

Scott County is a poor and largely rural area where needle-sharing by drug users is common, health officials said. In response, Pence authorized local health officials to implement a needle exchange program, a measure he previously opposed.

Indiana state lawmaker Ed Clere, like Pence a Republican, said needle exchange legislation was proposed last year but it became stalled in the state's Senate.

'Unfortunately we're back here, not just with needle exchange as a hypothetical theory, but with a real situation where a needle exchange could make a difference,' he said.

State officials said the governor's emergency declaration provides additional resources for officials to coordinate a response to the 'outbreak of HIV that has reached epidemic proportions.'

Officials expect the number of infections to rise, and are working to contact as many as 100 other people linked to those with confirmed cases.

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