In a June 24 New England Journal of Medicine article, Dr. Chris Beyrer, professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Steffanie Strathdee, director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of California, San Diego, state that Congress should immediately lift a ban on the use of federal funding for needle-exchange programs.
The commentary comes in wake of an HIV and Hepatitis C virus (HCV) outbreak in rural Scott County, Indiana. As of June 10, 169 people in Scott County have been diagnosed with HIV and more than 80% of them are co-infected with HCV. Scott County traditionally has not seen more than five new cases of HIV in a year, and the alarming spread was traced to residents’ injection of the drug Oxymorphone (OPANA®).
Study authors note that in 25 states, purchasing syringes over the counter is illegal without a prescription. In response to this outbreak, Indiana’s Governor Mike Pence declared a public health emergency and authorized a temporary emergency needle exchange program, although he has opposed needle exchanges. The authors argue that in addition to exchanges, other strategies like asking people about drug use during HIV screenings and exploring opioid replacement therapies could help alleviate this growing health problem.
To access additional information and resources to support local health department HIV and HCV prevention, care, and treatment practice and policy, visit NACCHO’s HIV and STI and Viral Hepatitis webpages. For more information about preparing for and preventing opioid-associated outbreaks at the local health department level, view this blog post.