A small town in Austin, Indiana has caused alarm by reporting nearly 200 cases of HIV fueled by the opioid epidemic’s intravenous (IV) drug practices. Austin is about 40 miles from Louisville, Kentucky; a state where the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a surge in Hepatitis B cases due to needle sharing.

This HIV crisis began last year as addicts shifted from using Oxycontin to a new painkiller drug called Opana – manufactured by Endo Pharmaceuticals. In February alone, there were 30 confirmed cases of HIV in Scott County, Indiana. Unfortunately, that number rose to 55 by mid-March. The outbreak had begun spiraling out of control. Presently, reports show that of the 4,200 residents in Austin, 190 of them are HIV-positive.

What is Opana?

According to NPR, Opana is a time-release prescription opioid drug that provides pain relief over a 12-hour period. However, addicts found that crushing and snorting the powder released all the effects in a single dose. Endo Pharmaceuticals were forced to reformulate the drug and told the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2012 that the reformulation was meant to “provide a crush-resistant product, equally as effective as Opana ER, which would discourage abuse, misuse and diversion.”

Yet again, addicts found a way around this new formula by injecting the drug. The needle sharing that followed led to the outbreak of HIV in the town.

Response to the Indiana HIV Outbreak

Since last year, state officials have fought relentlessly to bring the HIV crisis under control through new laws, funding and programs. For some people, there have been positives to draw out of the crisis. An example is Brittany Combs, a public health nurse for the Scott County Health Department, who was quoted by USA Today saying, “I think we have a lot of really good things that came out of the HIV outbreak. We still have a long way to go.”

In a March press release by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), Dr. William Cooke of Foundations Family Medicine and Austin’s only physician said, “While we’ve worked for years to reduce drug addiction among our residents, no one would have imagined that an HIV outbreak like the one we witnessed would hit small town Indiana. It was an urgent situation that required widespread community outreach, testing and treatment options that were not at our ready disposal at the time.”

Lawmakers also played a key role in quickly passing needle exchange program legislation for four counties: Scott, Madison, Monroe and Fayette. Unfortunately, they crippled the programs by blocking state funding. Many leaders fear that needle exchange programs will have the negative effect of encouraging addicts to continue abusing drugs. Instead, state officials must rely on donations and on non-profit organizations to finance the programs.

Luckily, organizations such as AHF are providing much needed services in identifying and treating HIV infected patients. For instance, AHF has opened a HIV/AIDS clinic called Foundations Family Medicine. Hospitals are also helping addicts who are experiencing withdrawal symptoms from Opana abuse.

Also, Courier-Journal reports that Michael P. Fisher, an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, will become the new director of the State Department of Health’s HIV/STD Division on May 2.

Every step that the leaders take will go a long way in helping to curb this HIV outbreak in Austin.