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Southern Indiana Drug User's Choice Shows Side Benefit of Needle Exchanges

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Leona has used Opana intravenously for years. She was relieved to find out this spring that she was HIV negative.

That hasn't been the case for many other intravenous drug users in Scott County, Indiana, including many of her friends.

"It's tearing them up and it makes them wonder how long they had it," said Leona, who spoke to WFPL in April about the HIV outbreak and has asked that her last name be withheld out of privacy concerns.

The county, about 30 miles north of Louisville, has 158 positive HIV cases related to the intravenous use of the prescription painkiller, Opana.

Leona has taken advantage of the needle exchange program in Austin, Indiana, as part of Gov. Mike Pence's executive order temporarily legalizing needle exchanges in the area. She said she visited twice and turned in 14 dirty needles for clean ones.

"A lot of the people I know who are IV users are not sharing now because they got their own syringes and they'e able to carry them," she said.

Now, Leona is hoping to beat her addiction for good. She has entered rehab at Turning Point in Jeffersonville.

It was through the needle exchange program that she received information about the treatment facility.

"I'm hoping that I can stay clean," Leona said. "I'm almost 40 years old. I'm over it. I'm tired of putting a needle in my arm."

This is her first time entering rehab and she said she's worried about going through withdrawal.

"Your skin starts crawling," she said. "You're in a pool of sweat and you're cold. It's like a thousand knots going through you constantly.

"You get real weak and you just start puking your brains out and you start heaving. It's just an ache that won't go away. It's like someone took a dull knife and cut you all over."

At this point in her life, Leona said she can no longer hide her addiction from her parents or her children. And she said if she doesn't stop abusing Opana, her family may not be there for her.

"I gotta stick with it and he'll be there for me, but if not he'll shut the door on me," Leona said about her father.

She said her addiction has not only affected her relationships with family but also her quality of life. She says she once drove nice cars and had a nice home, but for years she spent a lot of her earnings on drugs.

She says she hopes to change that after leaving rehab.

Needle exchange advocates say the programs give public health workers the opportunity to coax users into treatment. The needle exchanges are a point of contact with a drug-using community that may otherwise lack opportunities to learn about treatment programs.

Indiana health officials report 22 clients have been admitted into impatient care at LifeSpring in 2015. Everyone who has requested inpatient treatment has received a scheduled start date.

As she entered treatment recently, Leona said she wishes government officials would have done something sooner to help addicts in Scott County.

"We probably wouldn't have a bad outbreak like we got now, and it's no telling how long it's been in this town before they done anything about it," she said.