Gov. Pence declares HIV outbreak a public health emergency in Scott Co.

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SCOTTSBURG, Ind. (March 25, 2015) – The HIV outbreak in southern Indiana is now being called a crisis. Gov. Mike Pence took part in a special meeting Wednesday to deal with the situation, which experts say was brought on by drug users sharing needles. Pence signed an executive order Thursday morning declaring a public health emergency in Scott County, where there are now 72 confirmed cases.

Pence also met medical experts and with federal health officials this week.

“Since that time, our administration has been evaluating options, both with regard to resources and flexibility, and all those agencies impacted by this epidemic to address it in a more effective way,” said Pence.

At the center of the debate: a needle exchange program that’s now causing some controversy at the Statehouse.

Lawmakers met in the House health committee to discuss an amendment that would establish a needle sharing program.

“Needle exchange is not a new concept,” said state Rep. Ed Clere, the committee chairman. “This is something that has been around in the United States for more than two decades.”

“What we’re seeing is that those who participate in needle exchanges actually reduce their needle use and the hiv prevalence in those populations is lower,” said Dr. Beth Meyerson.

A similar needle program was just approved by the Kentucky legislature, but while the governor is considering an emergency needle exchange in Scott County, he still has concerns about the idea in general.

“To be clear, as we hear this amendment today, Governor Pence opposes needle exchange as anti-drug policy and he stands by current law,” said deputy state health commissioner Jennifer Walthall. “(However) with regard to needle exchange he is considering a focused limited program for the sole purpose of addressing this epidemic in Scott County.”

The governor will hold a briefing to discuss the issue Thursday morning at 10 a.m.

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