The NIDA Blog Team
April 8 2015

Update: As of April 17, 2015, Indiana is reporting that 130 people have been infected with HIV as a result of intravenous drug use. Scott County started a short-term needle exchange program on April 4 and has distributed 5,322 clean syringes to 86 people and collected 1,400 used syringes.

Rural Indiana Has Become an HIV Hot Spot

A county in rural Indiana is in the national spotlight because of a dramatic increase in HIV infections. In 3 months, beginning in December 2014, 79 people have been diagnosed with HIV. In a normal year, there would be five diagnoses in that time. This situation qualifies as an HIV epidemic. How did this happen?

Sharing Needles Spreads HIV. Sharing Knowledge Prevents It.

Health experts say that 100% of the recently diagnosed people were infected by sharing needles to inject themselves with Opana. Opana is a powerful opioid prescription pain medication. You may have heard of other similar prescription opioid drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local health officials, and the State of Indiana are working to put a stop to this outbreak.

Testing

Health officials are doing everything they can to test people who are at risk. It’s believed that many more people will be diagnosed with HIV in this community in the coming weeks, since many of those infected don’t know it. Not knowing you are HIV positive is not unique to Indiana or people who inject drugs. It is estimated that 240,000 people in the United States do not know they have HIV.

Needle Exchange

The Indiana Governor has temporarily lifted Indiana’s ban on needle exchange programs. Needle exchange programs allow people who inject drugs to swap out their used needles for free new ones. While injecting drugs remains dangerous, providing users with clean needles cuts down on the spread of HIV.

Treating

Health officials are setting up an HIV clinic to help treat those who test positive for HIV. Once someone receives and continues to take medications for HIV, they are 96% less likely to infect another person—so getting treatment for those infected is an important way to slow the spread of HIV.

Why Would People Share Needles?

According to the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California, people who inject drugs often know the risks of sharing needles. But it’s not as easy as you may think to get clean needles and syringes.

  • Injection drug users may not have the money to constantly buy new needles/syringes.
  • They may not want to carry needles/syringes around because they can be considered “drug paraphernalia”—which means the police recognize them as evidence of drug use.
  • Some states require that you have a prescription to buy needles and syringes.

And ultimately, when someone is addicted, they have intense urges to use drugs. Their need to use drugs becomes greater than their concern about the dangers of sharing needles.

Is This Just Indiana’s Problem?

What is happening in this farming community in Indiana is something that may start to affect more and more states. There is a flood of prescription pain medications in the United States. It is estimated that doctors wrote 259 million prescriptions for these drugs in 2012, enough for every American adult to have their own bottle of pills. Many of these pills get shared or are stolen and used by others to get high. And with this increase in supply there is an increase in the number of people becoming addicted. Some of those who become addicted start using syringes and needles to inject themselves with the drugs—and this creates a huge risk for the spread of HIV.

Needles are not the only link between drug use and HIV. April is Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Awareness Month—so take some time to read up on the dangers of diseases that can be transmitted in bodily fluids.

You may read this and think “not my problem.” But problems like drug addiction and the spread of HIV are problems that affect entire communities, using tax dollars and other resources that communities need for other things, like new roads, better hospitals, and schools.

Tell us in the comments: Does this make you think any differently about the risks of abusing prescription pain medications?

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