Scott County health officials say 42 people have tested positive for HIV
The outbreak is tied to a problem the county's been dealing with for years: prescription drug use. Health officials have linked the majority of HIV cases to people sharing needles while using the painkiller Opana.
"We have 42 positive for HIV," said Scott County Public Health Nurse Brittany Combs.
Forty-two in the past few months and in a typical year, the county sees fewer than five new cases.
Combs says in response, the local health department in Scottsburg is offering free HIV testing for the first time. In the past, residents have been referred to Clark County.
"We have never done testing ourselves here so we are bringing in experts from other areas to help us out, to assist us," Combs said.
They're passing out fliers, brochures and cards to get the word out.
Combs says the outbreak is centered in the Austin area in Scott County, even though the state tied it to Clark, Jackson, Perry and Washington counties too.
"In the beginning stages, the State Department of Health just wanted to release the counties where they were investigating cases," she said. "It turns out all the cases were from Scott County, but the surrounding counties had some of our residents that were in their jails."
Health officials have linked the majority of cases to people sharing needles while using the painkiller Opana.
"Opana is the number one abused prescription narcotic in our county," Scott County Sheriff Dan McClain told WDRB News.
He says it's more available in the area right now than heroin. Users grind the pills and cook them to make a liquid form to shoot up.
"We go through the battle of people having prescriptions, selling their prescriptions, doctor shopping and getting a hold of these pills and then selling what's legal pills to start with, illegally," McClain said. "It makes our job a lot harder."
As law enforcement focuses on catching those buying and selling the drugs, local health officials know this county wide issue remains intertwined with the spread of HIV.
"Fighting an outbreak is hard for a public health nurse but an outbreak of HIV is almost impossible," Combs said. "This is a bigger problem than just stopping an outbreak, we need to stop the IV drug abuse and that's the big thing that we've been fighting for years already."
Health officials say the number HIV positives could be over 100. They're urging people to get tested.
Free, confidential testing is available at the Scott County Health Department, 1471 North Gardner Street in Scottsburg on Mondays and Thursdays from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Officials say they are also trying to open a testing site in Austin, Indiana and undergo more widespread HIV testing in local jails.
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