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Drugs & Health Blog

Drug Use Leads to HIV Epidemic for One Community

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
The NIDA Blog Team

Update: As of April 17, 2015, Indiana is reporting that 130 people have been infected with HIV as a result of intravenous drug use. Scott County started a short-term needle exchange program on April 4 and has distributed 5,322 clean syringes to 86 people and collected 1,400 used syringes.

Rural Indiana Has Become an HIV Hot Spot

A county in rural Indiana is in the national spotlight because of a dramatic increase in HIV infections. In 3 months, beginning in December 2014, 79 people have been diagnosed with HIV. In a normal year, there would be five diagnoses in that time. This situation qualifies as an HIV epidemic. How did this happen?

Sharing Needles Spreads HIV. Sharing Knowledge Prevents It.

Health experts say that 100% of the recently diagnosed people were infected by sharing needles to inject themselves with Opana. Opana is a powerful opioid prescription pain medication. You may have heard of other similar prescription opioid drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local health officials, and the State of Indiana are working to put a stop to this outbreak.


Health officials are doing everything they can to test people who are at risk. It’s believed that many more people will be diagnosed with HIV in this community in the coming weeks, since many of those infected don’t know it. Not knowing you are HIV positive is not unique to Indiana or people who inject drugs. It is estimated that 240,000 people in the United States do not know they have HIV.

Needle Exchange

The Indiana Governor has temporarily lifted Indiana’s ban on needle exchange programs. Needle exchange programs allow people who inject drugs to swap out their used needles for free new ones. While injecting drugs remains dangerous, providing users with clean needles cuts down on the spread of HIV.


Health officials are setting up an HIV clinic to help treat those who test positive for HIV. Once someone receives and continues to take medications for HIV, they are 96% less likely to infect another person—so getting treatment for those infected is an important way to slow the spread of HIV.

Why Would People Share Needles?

According to the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California, people who inject drugs often know the risks of sharing needles. But it’s not as easy as you may think to get clean needles and syringes.

  • Injection drug users may not have the money to constantly buy new needles/syringes.
  • They may not want to carry needles/syringes around because they can be considered “drug paraphernalia”—which means the police recognize them as evidence of drug use.
  • Some states require that you have a prescription to buy needles and syringes.

And ultimately, when someone is addicted, they have intense urges to use drugs. Their need to use drugs becomes greater than their concern about the dangers of sharing needles.

Is This Just Indiana’s Problem?

What is happening in this farming community in Indiana is something that may start to affect more and more states. There is a flood of prescription pain medications in the United States. It is estimated that doctors wrote 259 million prescriptions for these drugs in 2012, enough for every American adult to have their own bottle of pills. Many of these pills get shared or are stolen and used by others to get high. And with this increase in supply there is an increase in the number of people becoming addicted. Some of those who become addicted start using syringes and needles to inject themselves with the drugs—and this creates a huge risk for the spread of HIV.

Needles are not the only link between drug use and HIV. April is Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Awareness Month—so take some time to read up on the dangers of diseases that can be transmitted in bodily fluids.

You may read this and think “not my problem.” But problems like drug addiction and the spread of HIV are problems that affect entire communities, using tax dollars and other resources that communities need for other things, like new roads, better hospitals, and schools.

Tell us in the comments: Does this make you think any differently about the risks of abusing prescription pain medications?

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


No this doesn't make me think differently about the risks of drug abuse. All drugs can be abused and people of been abusing opioids for a long time, Wether in the form of opium like in Victorian times street drugs like heroin, or Rx painkillers like now. Antibiotics can be abused, some people take them for colds and other conditions for which they were not intended , this can lead to antibiotic resistance like MURSA. This can kill you! As long as you carefully follow your doctor's instructions you'll be fine. I myself have taken opioids many times and I'm not even 30yo yet. Years ago I had a kidney stone (my doctor said that kidney stones can be as painful as childbirth or cancer pain). I was given morphine and Dilaudid IV in the hospital and they sent me home with oxycodone (The fast acting form of OxyContin). My dentist gives me like Vicodin or Percocet for painful dental procedures like root canals, extraction and wisdom tooth surgery. My headache specialist give me Fiorinal for severe tension headaches (Fiorinal has two addictive drugs in it: codeine an opioid and butalbital a barbiturate). But all the other headache medications didn't work and I only take it once or twice a month, Once in a while (about every one or two years) I'll a get severe cough and my doctor gives me Hycodan syrup (it contains the same opioid as in Vicodin). I'll be honest it feels good and it's tempting to use them for stress or just for fun but you have to be careful your health (and life) hangs in the balance My mother uses Opana daily for severe back pain and fibromyalgia. Once she started taking it he was able to go back to work and is much more productive and functional. After a while they changed the formulation of Opana to make it "abuse-proof"so that addicts couldn't crush it and inject the contents. My mother said that once they changed the formulation it was much less effecttive even after her doctor raised her does. Unfortunately due to the "prescription drug epidemic" many misguided people are trying to restrict the use of opioids for only cancer pain or other arbitrarily chosen maladies. I disagree with the term epidemic because traditionally that refers to contagious diseases like AIDS or the plague. Researchers went back to look at the "crack epidemic" of late 1980's, they found that crack use actually stayed the same throughout the entire decade of the 80s it was all a fabrication by the media, because lurid stories about crack addiction sells more papers! The DEA is pressuring doctors to prescribe less. My mother had to switch pharmacies because her old pharmacy wouldn't fill her prescriptions for Opana anymore because they said the DEA was pressuring them. Shouldn't doctors be the ones deciding how much to prescribe, not bureaucrats like the DEA or police like those on narcotics task forces?
I've not even told my family or friends about this in the four years I've been diagnosed, but I am an HIV Positive male in my mid thirties. I'm actually on here with a question, and I'm a bit frazzled so I'm hoping all of this makes sense. I was prescribed Daraprim, and I take a generic version of it because it's less expensive, but now even that's too expensive from my regular pharmacy because I was recently laid off from my job and lost my health insurance. My doctor told me there were places online I could get it but to be sure I'm getting it from a 'reputable' place. I found an online pharmacy where I could actually afford it, but I've never used something like that so I was coming on here for some insight/direction. My sister gets her Asthma meds/antibiotics and the like from the same place, but I haven't found any reviews from people who've gotten Daraprim from them. Has anyone ever bought any of their meds from [website removed]? I'm almost out of my meds for the month and need to refill in the next couple of days. This is the website: [website removed] If anyone could offer any insight I'd be truly grateful. Thank you.

Hi Gene, it's really important to make sure any drugs you buy online are coming from a safe, licensed pharmacy. The FDA has information on how to find a reputable pharmacy at this website: You can click on the BeSafeRx link to search for licensed pharmacies in your state. Your area might also have programs to help you pay for your medications while you are out of a job. The Department of Health and Human Services has a website to help people find HIV/AIDS assistance in their state, including a list of hotlines to connect you with local agencies: