Indiana Governor Mike Pence authorized a needle exchange program, overriding administrative state law as well as his own policies. This move was intended to curb the spread of HIV which has been propagating in more rural parts of Indiana due to intravenous drug use. Health officials reported that since December, there has been a disproportionate rise in new HIV cases, caused by sharing needles used for intravenous drug use, up from the average five new cases per year. In fact, in February alone, the amount of reported cases jumped from 26 to 80 and health experts are predicting that this number will steadily rise.
The infections for the most part have been due to people injecting a liquified form of a prescription painkiller known as Opana. Other needle uses include that of heroin and methamphetamine. While needle use is one of the ways in which the HIV virus is transmitted, it is more commonly spread through sexual activity and can often lead to AIDS. More than six-dozen HIV cases were found to be located in or around Scott County. Scott County is a rural and economically poor area located north of Louisville Kentucky.
In the past, Pence, the governor of Indiana, had opposed such needle exchange programs. These type of programs allow people, who use drugs intravenously, to acquire new hypodermic needles in exchange for their used ones, in order to control the spread of contagious diseases like hepatitis and HIV. In Indiana, these programs are illegal and the governor, up until now has opposed approval. However, he is now issuing an executive order to stem the spread of these diseases. This order is requested to run for a short-term of 30 days, and will apply only to Scott County and victims who are connected with it.
The needle program, reluctantly authorized by Indiana Governor Pence, involves other ways to help halt the spread of HIV. It will involve sending people to help assist people in registering for the Healthy Indiana Plan, by providing the necessary records required to enroll. Other vaccinations will also be administered for diseases associated with intravenous use, including tetanus and hepatitis. Critics, however, while praising the governor’s flexibility, state that it does not do enough overall and does not address the origin of the problem. Some pointed out that it is not enough to just distribute clean needles. Patients need more access to public resources and health centers, including HIV testing sites.
Indiana University’s co-director of the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention, Beth Myerson pointed in addition, that the 30 day period of the program instituted by the governor is not enough and that more services are needed to assist patients. State representative Charlie Brown in a more recent interview stated that, while it was a priority declare in Scott County a public health emergency, there needs to be a similar measure passed in other counties like Lake, where there are nearly 1,700 cases and 4,700 more confirmed in Marion, in effect dwarfing the amount of cases reported in Scott. He plans to issue a proposal in order to introduce such programs with Indiana Governor Pence, and supports legislation to pass an amendment authorizing a needle exchange program, and making it permanent.