Indiana Starts Needle Exchanges To Fight Raging HIV Outbreak

Indiana Starts Needle Exchanges To Fight Raging HIV Outbreak

"Anybody need clean needles today?" isn't exactly what you'd expect to hear shouted from a car in rural Indiana but its a phrase that's increasingly heard as the state struggles to combat a raging HIV outbreak linked to drug use and needle sharing.

Scott County, one of the hardest hit areas, is now running a mobile needle exchange unit, part of the county's emergency response to the largest HIV outbreak in Indiana's history. To date more than 160 people have tested positive since December and authorities believe there may be double or triple the number lurking in untested patients.

By giving injection drug users access to clean needles, the spread of disease can be interrupted. It's a proven strategy, that has been used successfully in Canada, England and Australia though such projects, even with proven results, tend to be shunned by politicians because of easy, factless, rhetorical attacks on them.

In Indiana's case there is little choice - its either become the HIV capital of America or take proven health strategies to stop the spread of the deadly disease. So far the program has been running a storefront and a mobile program on a temporary basis since early April, while last week the state approved the county's request to extend it for a full year.

Yet it took until April of this year for Indiana's politicians to come around, as they were outright banned prior to this, and even now individual counties still must seek approval from the state to operate one.

In Scott County the program started off slow with only four people coming by the first week. But now more than 170 people have signed up, and each day they trade in hundreds of used needles for clean ones.

It's clear that the program is reducing harm and making the community safer.

Politicians across the country, not just Indiana, need to look at the research, which shows that needle exchanges curb the spread of infectious diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV.

If needle exchanges were fully allowed across every state and city in America, thousands of lives would be saved each year.

So why aren't we doing this? Politics. Plain and simple.

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