In what is being slated as the worst HIV outbreak in the state of Indiana, the Governor has declared a public health emergency. Governor Mike Pence reported that there have been a total of 79 cases of HIV confirmed but with testing ongoing, the number is expected to rise.
The majority of HIV cases have been in or around Scott County, which is not far from the Kentucky border. Of all confirmed cases, Opana, an opioid painkiller has been used intravenously. As stated by Brittany Combs, Scott County Health Department public health nurse, this HIV outbreak is believed to be the worst ever recorded in the state of Indiana.
Pence added that this situation is extremely serious and to help, officials with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggested that he start a needle exchange program immediately. In light of that support, Pence said he would make an exception to his long-standing opposition against the program because the current public health emergency was driven from IV drug use.
Because Pence raised the flag on the HIV outbreak being a public health disaster, relevant agencies are being ordered to provide county and state health departments to help.
Indicated by Combs, the use of Opana has been an ongoing problem in Scott County. Because of this, doctors no longer write out prescriptions unless 100% necessary. The problem is that Opana use in this part of Indiana is not coming from prescriptions written by local doctors but those from other countries.
Usually, Opana is administered in pill form for patients with extreme pain. In most cases, doctors will try an array of other drugs before prescribing Opana. Unfortunately, some people have discovered that Opana can be crushed and then injected. As a result, not only do they get high but the high lasts longer.
As part of the investigation about the HIV outbreak, all of the individuals who tested positive admitted they had used Opana intravenously. However, many individuals also shared that they had multiple sex partners. Although sharing needles for injecting Opana is probably the main source, other avenues have to be considered.
Typically, Scott County only sees four or five cases of HIV a year so at the current level there is a true public health emergency. Pence wanted the public to know that he is taking the word of experienced professionals from the CDC and other agencies, adding that any decisions made regarding how to stop the outbreak will be based on the best known science.