The state of Indiana is currently experiencing an HIV epidemic that the governor has called the “worst outbreak in state history”. In addition to HIV, the state has a high percentage of Hepatitis C cases as well. The epidemic has most likely been caused by the widespread use of heroin in the region. Doctors are recommending that heroin users get tested for diseases soon, or else the problem might continue to get worse.
General surgeon Dr. David Welsh said, “We need to stop this vicious cycle. We need to get them help and there's help out there and the first step is getting them tested."
Because of the widespread epidemic, many counties in Indiana are starting needle exchange programs that will enable drug users to bring used and contaminated needles and exchange them for clean needles.
Dr. Welsh continued, “This needs to be a multi-prong approach to deal with the problem of mental health issues and addiction issues. The governor visited Scott County when the region was in the national spotlight for the widespread HIV outbreak and during that time, he pointed out that there needs to be in the multifaceted approach to solving the heroin problem."
Some counties, such as Ripley Country, are hesitant to start such a program. They say that a program of this type only encourages further drug use. However, other counties have worked to start the program as soon as possible.
Regardless of whether or not their country has a needle exchange program, Dr. Welsh stressed that it is very critical that drug users get tested for the diseases.
“People with addiction need to know that we are here for them. No one is going to judge them and if they need help, there are many departments and many people with whom they can speak to on this issue,” he said.
On Tuesday November 10th, the Ripley County Health Department plans to offer people complementary Hepatitis C and HIV screenings.