Health commissioner extends needle exchange in HIV embattled county

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A government-run needle exchange in Scott County — intended to stop the worst outbreak of HIV in Indiana history — will be extended through May 2016, state health commissioner Jerome Adams announced in a letter to the Scott County commissioners Thursday.

The letter reads:

“Dear Commissioners: I received your second letter dated May 20, 2015, containing the additional information that I requested. Pursuant to your request and the authority provided under SEA 461, I am declaring a public health emergency for Scott County for the period May 25, 2015 through May 24, 2016.”

Scott County commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday in favor of a request that would have extended the needle exchange in Scott County for another year. But their first letter sent to the Indiana State Health Department Wednesday morning failed to include language that specifically asks the state health commissioner to declare a public health emergency, which is required under the new state law permitting needle exchanges.

In a second letter sent to the Indiana State Health Department Wednesday afternoon, the Scott County commissioners corrected that omission, writing: “Under SEA 461, we respectfully request that you declare a public health emergency in Scott County, allowing for the continuation of the needle exchange starting on 5/25/2015 and running through May 24, 2016 with the ability to renew annually.”

The commissioners’ letter also addressed the outbreak:

“Since the onset of the outbreak, the Scott County Health Department has worked with local partners and state health officials to address the injection drug use problem and subsequent transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C through proven interventions including community outreach and education, counseling and testing services, partner services and community clean up events. Despite these efforts, the instances of transmission continued.”

Figures released Tuesday by state health officials show that 158 people have tested positive for HIV. 157 of those cases were confirmed, and one person’s positive test was listed as preliminary. With nearly 160 people infected, that’s more than 50 times the county’s normal HIV infection rate, according to an analysis by I-Team 8.

I-Team 8 spent weeks investigating the effectiveness of needle exchanges. Our special report exposed underground needles exchanges in Indiana and aired just days before state lawmakers agreed to adopt a bill that would expand needles exchanges in counties experiencing an epidemic of HIV or Hepatitis C. You can watch that report here.

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