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May 4, 2015

Indiana hopes needle exchange will help stem HIV epidemic

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Officials in the state of Indiana have approved a needle exchange program to help curb an HIV outbreak that is unprecedented in the state’s history.

The number of confirmed HIV cases has spiked in recent months: more than 140 confirmed cases in rural Scott County. In response, the state created a needle exchange program that enables drug users to trade their used needles for clean ones to lessen the risk that they will spread the HIV virus via shared needles.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence has opposed needle exchanges in the past, saying that they support drug use. But the programs can have public benefits, according to Scott County nurse Brittany Combs.

Combs said that the trip to the clinic is a time when health workers can educate drug users on substance abuse and harm reduction, and build a relationship of trust.

State and federal public health officials have taken several other measures to lessen the spread of HIV in the area, including setting up testing and drug counseling services and tracing people who may have been exposed to the virus.

The outbreak has caused tension in local neighborhoods, with residents complaining about the number of discarded syringes.

Local police have also recently made a number of drug-related arrests; in Austin, Indiana, 30 people were arrested on drug-related charges in the past three months.


Warm up questions
  1. What does HIV stand for?
  2. What are some examples of public health problems?
Critical thinking questions
  1. What are some health care challenges of living in a rural community such as Austin?
  2. What types of misconceptions do people have about the ways HIV is spread? What can people do to correct those misconceptions?
  3. How has Austin, Indiana responded to the epidemic? What other ways might the community try to address the issue of drugs and illegal activities in their town?
  4. Extension activity: Read and/or watch how students at Austin High School reacted to the epidemic. From what these students say, what are the differences and similarities between Austin, Indiana and your community? What are these students proud of? What suggestions do they have for addressing the HIV epidemic? How would you react if your community faced a similar crisis?

Show your class how Indiana students have worked in their communities to raise awareness about HIV with a video.

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