Just two weeks into a short-term needle exchange program, a dozen new HIV cases have been reported in Southeastern Indiana — taking the total toll to 130.

The Indiana State Department of Health announced that there are 120 confirmed cases of HIV and 10 preliminary positive cases in Scott County, up from 106 in the previous week. Health officials suggest that initial cases were related to people self-injecting Opana, a power painkiller that contains oxymorphone.  

Jerome Adams, the State Health Commissioner, revealed that the number of cases is quite significant as Scott County normally reports just five cases on an average per year. State officials say that Indiana's HIV outbreak is exceptional, as all the cases are linked to intravenous drug use. 

In spite of his own anti-drug reservations, Governor Mike Pence overrode state laws and anti-drug policies to authorize the needle-exchange program, designed to contain the number of infections. Over 5,000 clean syringes have been given to more than 86 participants. Around 1,400 used syringes have been returned by the participants. Indiana police authorities have also ensured that people who participate in the program will not be prosecuted. 

Pence is currently reviewing recommendations in consideration of extending the emergency program beyond April 25.

Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long has suggested that needle-exchange program may promote drug abuse. "At the same time," Long said, "you adapt and you evolve based on the world we live in, so we're going to have to see if that requires a pivot for us."

Pence's executive 30-day order required the state health department to set up a command center to coordinate substance abuse and HIV treatment, and a mobile unit to reach people in the community and enroll them in the needle-exchange program. Indiana has also kicked off a campaign to teach and foster drug treatment, infection prevention, safe sex, needle disposal and HIV testing and treatment. 

Photo: Nathan Forget | Flickr

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