Scott County Indiana was the epicenter on one of the largest HIV outbreaks in U.S. history. Two years after implementing a needle exchange, officials are claiming it was a great success.
Original Source: wlky.com
Home to just 4,000 people, Austin, Indiana, was put on the map in early 2015. That’s when, in a matter of weeks, 30 cases of HIV — spread through intravenous drug use — were reported.
By the time a needle exchange opened in April, 80 cases had been reported. At the end of 2015, 150 people had been infected with the virus.
“There was no hope, there was a lot of despair, just negativity. People were ashamed to say they were from Scott County,” Patti Hall, the preparedness coordinator for the Scott County Health Department, said.
Hall was instrumental in helping to open a needle exchange. Now, some two years later, she calls their efforts successful. Nearly 500,000 needles have been distributed to 600 participants. Hall said it has helped level off the cases of HIV to 219. But addicts are not just getting clean needles, dozens are now choosing to get help.
That includes Jason Davis, clean for seven months.
“I need to be a father. I need to be a grandfather. I want to be all those things and I can’t walk my kids down the aisle if I’m behind bars. It just won’t ever work that way,” Davis said.
Davis and others struggling with addiction and touched by it, spent Tuesday evening enjoying a concert at Austin’s City Park.
Rick Wilson, also a recovering addict, shared his music and his story.
“People aren’t going to come to your church to hear a message on addiction, you got to take it to them,” Wilson, who is from Seymour, said of spreading a message of hope.
Gregory Dodds also attended the concert. A recovering addict, he says thanks to community outreach efforts the tides are beginning to turn.
“Once you get three or four people that stay clean and sober, and they talk to three or four people, and something starts to happen. It’s amazing. It’s very beautiful,” he said of witnessing other addicts receive help.
Patti Hall says it is a start, two years in the making. But, she said, there is much more to be done.
“We’re making some progress that we’re very proud of but our goal is to become a community of recovery,” she said. “We are working towards that.”
Several recovery centers have been opened in the area and churches are now doing outreach efforts. Grant dollars have also helped the Scott County Health Department expand their services as they battle opioid addiction.