HIV Outbreak in Indiana Worsens

By Daniel Bertan ‘17

HIV Outbreak in IndianaOver the past month, Scott County, Indiana, a small southern county in the state, has experienced a massive H.I.V. outbreak. The outbreak was first declared mid-march, but by last week, had already led to 106 new cases of H.I.V reported in the county. This week, that number jumped to 130 new cases this the outbreak, a whopping 24 cases in such a short period of time.

Indiana legislators are blaming the spread of the deadly disease on intravenous drugs.  Their claims are supported by the high prevalence of Hepatitis C in these new cases of H.I.V., which is a common indicator of needle sharing as the cause of spreading.

In an effort to combat this rapid spread of H.I.V., Indiana lawmakers passed a temporary order to create a needle exchange for drug users to try and curb this epidemic. These needle exchanges allow users to bring in their dirty needles, and trade them in for clean ones. So far, the exchanges have been in high demand, as 5,322 clean syringes have been distributed to 86 participants, and 1400 dirty needles have been collected. However, based on the new cases reported this week, it appears that this initiative may not be working.  Nonetheless, the Indiana state congress has passed a bill that would create needle exchanges for all 23 counties within the state. While this initiative may help slow down the spread of H.I.V. in Scott County, and the rest of Indiana, it is being met with criticism.

While some lawmakers believe that needle exchanges are good anti-disease measures, many experts are arguing that they are poor anti-drug measures. The exchanges just prevent users from reusing dirty needles, but don’t actually help get people off drugs, which is the original problem that caused the spread of this disease.  Additionally, after a law passed in 1998 federally banned funding by state governments for needle exchange programs, Indiana has no plan for funding these exchanges. Indiana has been pushing each county to “figure it out” and try and receive funding other ways. Without funding, these exchanges will fail, and without proper drug treatment programs, the problem and spread of H.I.V. will continue.

The implications of this epidemic are substantial. If the disease is not contained, it can spread, leaving Indiana and spreading to the rest of the country, creating more fear of H.I.V. and A.I.D.S.  Additionally, this can create an opportunity for Indiana to make new drug programs, that don’t support drug use by giving users new needles that instead seek to rehabilitate users.

This epidemic can create major problems for the whole country if it is not contained, so until we hear more news on reports of more or fewer cases, we can only wait and see if the spread of H.I.V. in Indiana can be stopped.


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