Pubdate: Sun, 29 Mar 2015
Source: Intelligencer, The (Wheeling, WV)
Copyright: 2015 The Intelligencer & Wheeling News Register
Author: Shelley Hanson
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


WHEELING - An HIV epidemic in southeastern Indiana is forcing the 
governor of that state to introduce a needle exchange program, 
something one local advocate believes could help decrease rates of 
the disease everywhere.

The hike in HIV cases in Indiana is being linked to intravenous drug 
users sharing needles. Locally, residents across the Ohio Valley are 
battling heroin addiction, and their neighbors are often left 
cleaning up the mess - including picking up used needles left behind 
on playgrounds, in parks and on roadways.

Jay Adams, president of the AIDS Task Force of the Upper Ohio Valley 
and an HIV care coordinator, said he applauds Indiana Gov. Mike Pence 
for introducing the needle exchange program. Such programs, Adams 
said, are one method of "reducing harm" to the public's health. 
Another method is condom use.

"A lot of people have become infected. It could continue to spread 
for years," Adams said of Indiana's HIV epidemic.

The number of HIV cases in Scott County, Ind., has increased from 
about five annually to nearly 80 since December, according to an 
Associated Press report. Indiana has seen 146 new HIV cases since 
January, which means Scott County's cases make up more than half that amount.

Adams said he was just learning of what was occurring in Indiana, and 
that he was concerned about the numbers being reported there.

"Those who work in HIV, most are in favor of establishing needle 
exchange programs. There are many obstacles to doing that, such as 
the permanent ban on the use of federal dollars for needle 
exchanges," Adams said.

Adams said West Virginia sees about 100 new cases of HIV each year. 
Of the HIV patients being helped in West Virginia, about 17-19 
percent of them once were intravenous drug users, Adams said.

He added West Virginia's HIV case numbers are somewhat skewed by 
Berkeley County because that county has a Veterans Administration 
hospital that treats veterans with drug problems. Many of those 
veterans were originally from Virginia or Washington, D.C., and were 
told not to go back to their old lives and friends, leading many of 
them stay in West Virginia.

One local community that is battling the heroin epidemic is the 
village of Bellaire. Members of the Bellaire Citizens Action Group 
have been taking the time to pick up trash throughout the village, 
and in doing so have come across numerous used needles. The amount of 
used needles has grown to the point the group recently proposed to 
Village Council that a "yellow box" container be posted somewhere in 
the community for drug users to throw away their dirty needles.

"It would have to be put out of the way, somewhere where they feel 
safe dropping needles," said group member Joyce Liberati. "Something 
has to do be done. I don't know what the answer is. We wanted 
education to be part of it. We want to let (drug users) know there is 
an option besides throwing it out the window."

Adams commended the group and Village Council for the yellow box endeavor.

"It's a small step in protecting the community. At least they're not 
burying their heads in the sand," he said.

Liberati said she was advised by the U.S. Environmental Protection 
Agency to place used needles in a plastic bottle, such as a bleach 
bottle, tape the top of it, write the word "sharps" all over the 
container and then throw it away in the trash.
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