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Southern Indiana Needle Exchange Program Serves Dozens in 10 Days

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In its first 10 days, more than 40 people used a new needle exchange program in the Southern Indiana county struggling with an HIV crisis linked to intravenous drug use.

The program, operated by the Scott County Health, was authorized by Gov. Mike Pence in an executive order that declared a public health emergency in Scott County due to the rapid spread of HIV.

Officials link the outbreak to intravenous drug use of Opana.

The number of HIV cases in Scott County is now 106.

The needle exchange began April 4 at the Austin Community Outreach Center, which is also serving as a one stop shop for HIV testing, treatment resources and vital records.

So far, 43 people have exchanged 580 used needles for 1,516 new needles. Scott County, Indiana, is about 30 miles north of Louisville. Louisville officials are also preparing for a similar program, this one pegged to Kentucky's issues with heroin use.

But there was skepticism leading up to the roll out. Leona, a Scott County resident who recently discussed with WFPL her years-old drug addiction, said she and others were concerned about legal consequences to exchanging needles with officials.

"Everybody's jumping all over it, but everybody was scared to go up and get them because they was afraid they was going to get incarcerated," she said.

They were told that there would be no consequences for now.

Leona, who asked that her last name not  be used for health privacy concerns, said people jumping at the chance to get clean needles may sound stupid, but it's better than sharing dirty ones.

Before, people who used intravenous drugs in Scott County were afraid that they'd be arrested for carrying needles, Leona said.

So they started sharing.

Leona said she wondered why there wasn't a needle exchange program sooner.

"Now they're wanting to give out free syringes … if they'd done that a long time ago we probably wouldn't have had an outbreak because people are gonna use regardless," she said.

In an email Tuesday, Milton Engebretson, the gentleman who's using his church's van to transport Scott County residents to the outreach center, said he's picked up 22 people.

"There are the ones that touched my heart," he wrote. "The abused wife looking for help, the homeless drug addict looking for help and a 19-year-old hooked on heroin."

"Please keep us in your prayers."

Gov. Pence's executive order expires April 25.

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