HIV/AIDS Crisis in Indiana Worsens; State's Weak Response Threatens Families Across Midwest
Advocates Call on Indiana Governor Pence and Legislature to Expand Syringe Exchange
Federal Funding Ban on Syringe Services Continues to Hamper Local Efforts to Address Heroin Use and Reduce HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C
04/22/2015 - In recent months HIV/AIDS infection rates have skyrocketed in rural
Indiana, in large part because of the sharing of syringes used for the injection of the prescription
painkiller Opana, heroin, and other drugs. In response Indiana Republican Governor Mike Pence
allowed one county to implement a 30-day syringe exchange program to reduce infection rates.
Governor Pence extended the program another 30 days this week, but advocates have pointed out that
a temporary program in just one county is not enough to stop an epidemic. The legislature is
considering legislation to make sterile syringes available on a broader and permanent basis.
"One program operating in one county for one month is not going to stop an epidemic,” said Bill
Piper, director of the office of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance. “Indiana's weak
response to rising HIV/AIDS transmission rates threatens every Hoosier, as well as people across
the Midwest and around the country.”
Decades of research in the U.S and from around the world has concluded that syringe access programs
reduce the spread of infectious diseases without increasing drug use. By preventing people from
contracting infectious diseases that can be expensive to treat, syringe exchange also saves
money by reducing healthcare expenditures. A sterile syringe can cost as little as a
nickel; treating someone with HIV/AIDS can cost taxpayers more than one million dollars.
In the U.S., injection drug use has accounted for more than one-third (36 percent) of AIDS cases – more
than 354,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet the U.S.
bans federal funding for sterile syringe access programs, even though the CDC has found that such
programs lower incidence of HIV/AIDS among people who inject drugs by 80 percent.
This refusal to adopt an evidence-based prevention strategy has cost the U.S. hundreds of thousands
of lives and billions of dollars.
In countries where addiction is treated as a health issue, the fight against HIV/AIDS is being won.
New HIV infections in countries such as Australia, Germany and Switzerland have been virtually
eliminated among people who use drugs, just as mother-to-child HIV transmission has been
eliminated in countries that make medicines for pregnant women accessible.
Last year, more than 140 local, national and international organizations released a letter calling
on Congress to end the archaic federal funding ban on syringe service programs. The ban was put
in place in 1988, repealed in 2009, and reinstated by Congress in 2011. The signatories
include over 80 prominent organizations from 26 states, as well as Puerto Rico and
the District of Columbia, in addition to dozens of national and international organizations.
Advocates say Governor Pence should work with his former Republican colleagues in Congress to repeal
the syringe-funding ban. He should also support efforts in the Indiana legislature to allow every
local jurisdiction to establish syringe exchange programs. Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear
recently did this, signing legislation that creates syringe exchange programs in local
jurisdictions that formally approve them. Hoosier families also deserve an effective
syringe exchange policy.
“As a native Hoosier whose uncle died of Hepatitis C – which he likely contracted from injection
drug use – I take syringe access very personally,” Piper said. “If the Governor's serious about
mitigating this disaster, he should expand Indiana's program statewide and work with Congress
to make sterile syringes widely available."
Tony Newman 646-335-5384
Bill Piper 202-669-6430
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