The number of new HIV cases has reached 142 in Scott County, Indiana. This comes only a few days away from the state’s legislative session, that will have to decide the fate of a bill that could legalize needle-exchange programs state-wide, but chances appear slim.
The ever-rising number of HIV and Hepatitis C cases in rural areas appears to be linked with group consumption of intravenous drugs. While this type of transmission only amounts to 8% worldwide, in these small communities, it seems to be going rampant.
Indiana has declared a state of public-health emergency and is struggling with resolving it, since needle-exchange programs would be a very promising starting point, but are not applicable state-wide just yet. What these programs do is offer sterile needles to drug users, without registering their names.
While 142 cases don’t appear to be an alarming amount, the situation changes when put against the population of Scott county, which is 4200 and especially against the number of cases registered in the last few years, which is 5.
It is not clear what lead to this outbreak exactly, but doctors do explain that in such small rural communities, it is not at all uncommon for children to consume drugs with parents and grandparents. And if this is done by using one single contaminated needle, it is enough to get the entire family sick.
The drugs that they most frequently use are prescription opioids and heroin. Doctors also blame the precarious state in which most of these people live, due to the recession and the ever-lowering number of jobs available. This renders them with too much free time to put up with and causes obvious depression. And depression and boredom are always a high risk combination.
In Scott County, needle-exchange programs are temporarily legal thanks to a public health order that was issued on March 26 and that was extended for another 30 days. But other than that, state authorities feel that passing the bill for needle-exchange programs would be only a superficial solution to the problem.
They intend to push the matter until summer. Until then, they want to look further into the factors that have generated this crisis. They want to come up with an interdisciplinary plan that will make a difference on the long run. Furthermore, they are not comfortable with the needle-exchange plan, since it has been deemed a slippery slope towards the increase of drug consumption in some circles.
However, the CDC points out that this is not the case, since needle-exchange hasn’t been proved to actually increase drug use, but rather not affect it at all. What it does seem to affect is disease transmission, which decreases considerably. Also, it boosts the number of patients that get tested for infectious diseases like HIV and Hepatitis.
Although Indiana would undoubtedly benefit from a multilayered approach on reducing its drug use, it seems to need the buffer that statewide needle-exchange programs would provide. This could help keep the issue at hand until summer. As the situation stands right now, the chances that numbers will skyrocket until the next legislation session are tremendous.
Image Source: healthline.com
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