Austin HIV Epidemic Plagues Indiana

Austin’s HIV epidemic is plaguing the state of Indiana, as it is a grim reminder of ongoing issues with drug addiction. According to reports, nearly 200 residents of the small town are currently living with HIV. The numbers are specifically concerning, as the city only had 89 cases of the devastating disease in April 2015.

According to the Daily Mail, the epidemic is blamed on Austin’s ongoing battle with injection drug addiction and the sharing of tainted needles.

Despite attempts by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to curb Austin’s HIV epidemic by distributing clean syringes to heroin users, the figure has reached 188 cases. As reported by Fox 58, the town has just over 4,000 residents.

State officials are still hoping the numbers will decrease as the state legalized a needle exchange program that allows addicts swap dirty needles for clean ones. Four counties, including Madison, Monroe, Scott, and Fayette, have reported positive results from the needle exchange programs, which began in May 2015.

However, lawmakers recently stopped funding the program in a move that health officials are calling a hindrance towards eradicating Austin’s HIV epidemic. The program is currently relying solely on donations from foundations, nonprofit organizations, and individuals in the community.

Fayette County public health nurse Paula Maupin is expecting needle exchange participants in her county to increase from seven to at least 75 within the next year.

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

State Representative Ed Clere contends the lack of funding from the state is an issue in numerous counties. Clere said he is optimistic that lawmakers will find a means of countering the loss of funding by providing financial support for office space, salaries, and other supporting mechanisms instead. He insists that the funds will not be diverted toward buying needles.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is in the process of identifying crucial areas that require funding. However, he warns not every county will be able to continue with their syringe exchange programs.

Scott County, which is approximately 30 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky, was the crux of an earlier HIV epidemic, which led to the changes in Indiana’s law. Scott County has been operating the needle exchange since April 2015. According to public health nurse Brittany Combs, 200 people were actively involved and 400 more recently signed up to participate.

Officials blame the unusual number of drug users in Austin on the city’s struggling economy. Many homes are boarded up with wood instead of windows, shops located on main streets are empty, and only about 10 percent of the adult residents go on to earn a college degree.

In some cases, authorities have reportedly seen parents using intravenous drugs with their children and grandparents using them with their grandchildren.

Public health workers underlined the fact that Austin’s HIV epidemic is fueled by the exchange of used needles as opposed to intercourse. Although it may seem ill-advised, needle exchange programs are seen as a necessary evil.

Those who oppose the controversial programs argue that they encourage people to continue to use intravenous drugs. However, health officials contend they need to celebrate each small step, as the programs can reduce disease.

During New York’s hepatitis C outbreak, health officials introduced a clean needle exchange program with a certain degree of success. However, Indiana Governor Mike Pence is not comfortable with the needle exchange program as an anti-drug policy, although he said he understands it could ease Austin’s HIV epidemic.

Indiana state health commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams said eliminating Austin’s HIV epidemic can be achieved by shifting from episodic-based care to population-based care.

“Let’s put the fire out and move on,” he said.

[Image via BioMedical/Shutterstock]

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