Officials in Scott County, Indiana are set to meet on Wednesday to decide whether or not the needle exchange program should be extended for an entire year.

The program was launched after an outbreak of the HIV disease was discovered in the county in December.

However, most of the locals were initially unaware of the presence of the disease in their community. Many residents in Scott County said they only found out about the epidemic when it was announced in the news.

Health experts believe the outbreak was connected to the rampant use of the drug Opana among locals. Drug users would often inject themselves with the liquefied form of the painkiller using infected syringes, which lead to the spread of the disease.

State officials reported there are already 158 people who tested positive for HIV. Most of the confirmed cases were detected in Scott County.

Before the recent epidemic, the average number of HIV cases in Scott County was five according to health officials.

To stop the spread of the virus, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a law that allowed local communities to seek approval from the state to conduct needle exchanges if an epidemic of hepatitis C or HIV is present due to the intravenous use of prohibited drugs.

In March, a noticeable drop in new HIV cases was recorded after Pence implemented a needle-exchange program in Scott County for 30 days. The governor later extended the program to run until May 24.

Scott County administrators are now seeking to lengthen the duration of the needle-exchange program beyond its expiration date.

Brittany Combs, a public nurse in the county, said the program has produced many positive results. It has helped convince people to commit to rehabilitation programs.

"They're slowly starting to trust us," she said.

Combs added that five individuals who took part in the needle-exchange were able to remain HIV-free all throughout the duration of the program.

"To me that's a huge success," the nurse said.

According to reports, 168 are currently involved in the ongoing needle exchange. The program has given out 16,300 sanitized needles throughout Scott County.

Photo: Nathan Forget | Flickr 

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