By Jerome Adams
Indiana is facing an unprecedented outbreak of HIV due to injection drug use in the southeastern region of the state.
Since December of last year, 142 new HIV cases have been reported in this region, with new cases still being reported each day. This is easily the largest outbreak of HIV among injection drug users in recent memory in the United States.
In response to this, Gov. Mike Pence declared a public health emergency in Scott County at the end of March, authorizing additional resources and temporarily suspending Indiana Code banning needle-exchanges in the county. The 30-day executive order has been extended for an additional 30 days.
As of April 24, the number of HIV cases related to the outbreak has reached 142 (136 confirmed and 6 preliminary positive cases). The large majority of the cases are due to injection drug use and sharing of needles. Based on our predictive modeling, we haven’t hit the peak yet, meaning we fully expect more cases due to increased testing and contacting high-risk individuals.
The area’s drug of choice is oxymorphone (trade name Opana), a prescription painkiller that can be crushed and injected. Its popularity has increased after the painkiller OxyContin was changed to become more difficult to abuse.
HIV drug therapy is available only for rich people. Not true. Treatment programs and support services are available through Medicaid-the nation’s largest source of public funding for AIDS and HIV care-and 350,000 uninsured Hoosiers can now get health care coverage, which includes HIV treatment and mental health services through Gov. Pence’s newly approved Medicaid reform program, HIP 2.0. Hospitals across the state have navigators to help people get signed up for HIP 2.0 coverage, and those who come to our one-stop shop in Austin can get everything they need to get signed up for HIP 2.0 in one visit. Lack of coverage is no longer a reason for lack of hope.
For more information about HIV and the outbreak response, visit the Indiana State Department of Health at StateHealth.in.gov.
Jerome Adams is the Indiana state health commissioner. Send comments to email@example.com.