Indiana has declared a state of emergency after an outbreak of HIV has infected at least 79 people in a southern corner of the state. All the cases have been linked to intravenous opiate drug use, and state health officials expect the number of infections to grow. Governor Mike Pence has approved a needle exchange program to stop the spread of the disease.
"Scott County is facing an epidemic of HIV, but this is not a Scott County problem; this is an Indiana problem," Pence said in a statement announcing the program. "The people of Scott County are working hard to address this crisis, and with additional state resources and new tools provided by this emergency declaration, I am confident that together we will stop this HIV outbreak in its tracks."
The program will be active for 30 days. Health workers will be safe from any criminal penalties that normally apply for giving drug users clean needles while the program is active. Though advocates and public health officials have been calling for safe needle exchanges in the state for a while, Pence reiterated that the program will be temporary, stating, "I don't believe effective anti-drug policy involves handing out drug paraphernalia."
Pence also said that he would not consider extending the program if the outbreak continues to get worse. The first case of HIV was diagnosed in Scott County in December, with numbers climbing rapidly since. The county usually sees around five cases of HIV a year.
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(Photo: Michael Conroy/AP Photo)