To Curb Indiana's HIV Crisis, State Steps In When Governor Won't

May 26, 2015 AT 10:40 AM

With the number of new diagnoses of HIV in Scott County tapering off, Gov. Mike Pence will not renew an executive public health emergency order to help address the situation when the order expires Sunday, state health officials said Thursday.

But that does not mean the public health emergency in the Southern Indiana county has ended. Intravenous drug use, which has been linked to the HIV spread, continues to be of concern.

So Thursday, the state's health commissioner issued another public health emergency order, this one to allow a temporary needle exchange program established by the governor's order to continue for another year.

Currently 160 people have been diagnosed with HIV, most of them Scott County residents and most linked to intravenous drug use of the opiod painkiller Opana.

Many of the newer diagnoses have come in people who had previously tested negative and who now tested positive, said Pam Pontones, Indiana state epidemiologist. State health officials have now notified 379 of 479 people who may have contracted the disease from those already diagnosed.

The governor's decision to allow his executive order, originally signed at the end of March, to expire signals a new phase in the state's response to the outbreak. In addition to allowing local authorities to establish the needle exchange program, the order resulted in the state dedicating multiple resources to fight the epidemic, such as opening a community outreach center to offer testing, assistance with health-care insurance enrollment, and substance abuse counseling.

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