Scott County health officials say local epidemic is "United Stat - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Scott County health officials say local epidemic is "United States' problem"

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- On Tuesday morning, WDRB News got a rare look at the first line of defense in the battle against the spread of HIV in Scott County: Austin's community outreach center and the needle exchange program.

Both places were open for business.

As of this morning, health officials say there are 135 HIV-positive patients. Five of those cases are in Jackson County, but they say those cases are isolated and contained.

Officials believe almost all are linked to injection drug use.

Health officials took us through the community outreach center and the room where the needle exchange program takes place. That program is only for residents of Scott County. We're told 95 people have taken advantage of the needle exchange program. About 3,100 used needles have been brought in, and roughly 4,300 needles have been provided.

Now that Indiana Governor Mike Pence has extended the emergency executive order for an additional 30 days, the needle exchange program can continue for that period of time too.

Officials say the first month served as a sort of development period. The second month will involve the rapid expansion of the program to help contain the spread of HIV.

"There's nothing that makes Scott County, Indiana, different than any other rural county in America," said Jennifer Walthall, a deputy state health commissioner. "I think it just happens to be the first that brought our attention to this constellation of events. There is an opiate epidemic across the United States. The sharing of needles for injection drug use is not limited to Austin. It's Indiana's Problem. It's the United States' problem."

The chief of Austin Police says they are not here to arrest these people -- they are here to help them.

If someone is in the program and has needles, he says they will not be arrested, but they could be arrested if they are not in the program.

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