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Health officials say more people using needle exchange

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — State health officials said the number of people using the needle exchange program in Austin has jumped from 95 to 166 over the past week.

The temporary program is possible due to an emergency order signed and recently extended by Gov. Mike Pence. Its aim is to slow the HIV outbreak in southeastern Indiana linked to intravenous drug use.

Nurse Brittany Combs of the Scott County Health Department attributes the spike in participants to increased use of a mobile needle exchange unit, and to more people trusting the program.

Health officials are also reporting increases over the past week in other services offered at Austin’s Community Outreach Center, including HIV testing. The Indiana State Department of Health is calling the facility a “One-Stop-Shop.” At the center, drug users can be connected with resources for overcoming addiction, get vaccinated against tetanus and Hepatitis, and get help finding a job through the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

Organizers are encouraging more people to use the services as they continue to try to slow the HIV outbreak in southeastern Indiana. The outbreak has now reached 143 total cases (138 confirmed and 5 preliminary positive). Officials are trying to find and test approximately 120 people who may have been exposed to HIV by the southeastern Indiana patients. That number is down from last week, when they were searching for approximately 130 people.

“We need to get every HIV positive citizen into treatment, and every HIV negative citizen with high-risk exposures also into treatment,” said Dr. Jennifer Walthall, the state’s deputy health commissioner.

Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams said Tuesday that the state wants to make their response an example of how to deal with an outbreak.