Indiana Gov. Mike Pence Overrides State Law To Authorize Needle-Exchange Program

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Gov. Mike Pence overrode state law and his own anti-drug policies Thursday to authorize a short-term needle-exchange program designed to help contain HIV infections in a rural county where more than six dozen cases have been reported, all of them tied to intravenous drug use.

Pence issued an executive order declaring a public health emergency in Scott County, an economically depressed area about 30 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky, that has seen 79 new infections since December. The county typically sees only about five HIV cases each year, health officials said.

All of those infected either live in Scott County or have ties to the county, and all of the infections have been linked to needle sharing among drug users.

Most of the infections involve people who injected a liquefied form of the prescription painkiller Opana. Methamphetamine and heroin account for the remaining cases, health officials said.

Pence, a Republican, said officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who arrived in the county Monday said it would be “medically appropriate” to authorize some type of needle-exchange program to help stem the infections.

Such programs are illegal in Indiana, and Pence has opposed needle exchanges as part of drug-control efforts. But his order allows Scott County officials to request state approval for a limited, short-term program.

The governor said he was acting to halt the spread of the virus “despite my reservations” about providing clean needles to addicts.

Needle-exchange programs allow drug users to turn in used hypodermic needles in return for sterile ones in an effort to contain diseases such as HIV and hepatitis. HIV is spread mostly through sex.

Pence’s executive order will run for 30 days. After that period, he will consider whether to extend it for another 30 days.

Scott County’s cases have surged from 26 in late February to —> Read More