Feb 18, 2020 - Health

Rural communities face HIV outbreak risk due to lack of syringe exchanges

Illustration of a health care weathervane

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Rural communities at risk of HIV outbreaks tied to drug use often don't have working syringe exchanges, which help reduce the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, NPR reports with Kaiser Health News.

Between the lines: Many of these rural communities have seen local opposition against syringe exchanges, which provide drug users with clean needles.

Why it matters: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified 220 counties as being at risk of drug-fueled HIV outbreaks, but KHN found that less than a third of them have working syringe exchanges.

  • When such an outbreak occurred in Austin, Indiana, five years ago — tied to opioid painkiller abuse — there was initially resistance to a syringe program, particularly by then-Gov. Mike Pence. He changed his mind after the number of infected people skyrocketed.

The bottom line: The ripple effects of the opioid epidemic are devastating and have no easy answers.

Go deeper: Large gaps in opioid treatment remain for rural areas

Go deeper