Austin, Indiana, HIV Epidemic Impacts 190 In Small Town

An HIV outbreak of epidemic proportion is raging in Austin, Indiana. Heroin abuse has plagued the small town for several years, and is being blamed as the likely culprit for the sudden influx of HIV cases.

At least 190 Austin, Indiana, residents have now been diagnosed with HIV. In February, at least 30 new HIV cases were confirmed, with 55 more cases emerging in March.

Austin, Indiana, is home to about 4,000 people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) took action earlier this year to help curb the spread of HIV, but so far, the number of cases continues to increase.

CDC officials claim they will continue their efforts to battle the Austin, Indiana HIV outbreak, and say they have made some progress in the evolving health crisis, the Daily Mail reports.

Health agencies began a taxpayer-funded needle exchange program for addicts so they could swap dirty needles for clean ones to inject the illegal drug in May. Indiana lawmakers have since stopped the flow of state funding for the needle swap program — a move some health officials have deemed a significant obstacle in stemming the flow of new HIV cases in the Austin area.

Indiana State Representative Ed Clere agreed that the ban on state funding for drug addicts to get clean needles is a “real barrier” for counties to overcome fiscally. The New Albany Republican also said winning over lawmakers on the issue would be necessary to get a new vote with a different outcome.

In addition to the HIV outbreak in the region, cases of Hepatitis-C and other infectious disease are also reportedly on the rise in four major counties in the state.

“I think we have a lot of really good things that came out of the HIV outbreak,” Austin area public health nurse, Brittany Combs, said during an interview with USA Today. “We still have a long way to go.”

Some of the counties hardest hit by the HIV outbreak are in poor, rural areas of Indiana. These counties include Madison, Scott, Monroe, and Fayette. Needle exchange programs that are still in operation are largely relying upon non-profit organization donations or county programs, which are also funded by local taxpayers.

Fayette County public health nurse Paula Maupin said she anticipated the number of drug addicts enrolled in the needle swap program to grow to about 100 participants in about the next year.

“What we’ve got, it’s fine for now. But when we have the amount of people I’m expecting, we’re going to burn through that money pretty quick,” Maupin said.

Loading...

The CDC is reportedly in the midst of writing rules which will apply to applications designed to seek federal funding for needle exchanges. The agency is required to identify “priority area for funding,” according to Indiana University Co-Director of the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention, Beth Meyerson. She also predicted at least 20 Indiana counties will be seeking approval to accrue federal taxpayer dollars to fund dirty needle swaps for drug addicts.

“Obviously they’re not going to have funding for every county that wants to initiate a syringe exchange locally. And many of these counties are very poor,” Meyerson said.

The ongoing HIV outbreak in Indiana is reportedly the worst in the state’s history. Health officials have at least tentatively linked the epidemic with the use of Opana — a liquefied prescription painkiller.

What do you think about the Austin, Indiana HIV outbreak and the debate about needle exchange funding?

[Image via Shutterstock]