One of the biggest HIV outbreaks in the U.S. is happening right now in Scott County, just south of my home of Jackson County.

It looks as though the opioid problem has gotten even worse in the last few years, and this does not surprise me or anyone else who is familiar with this area of Indiana. In both Jackson and Scott counties there is a massive drug problem that has been festering for decades.

Those of us who live in this community are affected by it even if we don’t use drugs. The drug addicts that are contracting HIV are our friends and family. I have seen the news articles and comments from concerned citizens about the needle-exchange program that is being set up in Scott County, many of them vehemently against the needle exchange.

There are many angles to approach community harm prevention when it comes to rampant drug use. One way is to make sure that those afflicted with blood-borne diseases do not transfer their illness to the general population. The very best way to do this is to encourage clean drug use and safe sex and discourage needle sharing. In Indiana there is a huge roadblock to this.

Needles are illegal to possess in Indiana if the possessor’s intent is to use an illegal drug.

This is the single biggest problem with Indiana’s drug policy as it pertains to this situation. You could literally save hundreds of lives by simply letting drug users possess clean needles.

There is a temporary needle exchange in Scott County, but it isn’t very trusted by the drug-using community because of this law. I know that for the time being the police are saying that they won’t enforce the paraphernalia laws.

Forgive the community for not trusting the same people who will take away their lives for being an addict who can’t get help. The fear of arrest and prosecution is what is going to spread HIV through our community right now.

Indiana lawmakers need to strike this law from the books. There is a tendency among these lawmakers to play the white knight and tell the community that they should just stop using the drugs.

While that is a fair argument, on a personal level it is not, and will never be, a good argument to use in public policymaking.

Indiana lawmakers, please understand that it is not the drug users that you are protecting or helping by giving needles to or allowing them to possess. By legalizing possession of a hypodermic needle they are protecting the portion of the population that does not use drugs.

HIV is spread in many ways, and only one of them is drug use. If it is not contained it will start to spread more and more through sexual contact. This is unacceptable. The HIV outbreak that is happening before our eyes just a few miles south is a direct result of Indiana’s policy that criminalizes needles and careless drug users.

Please, for all of our sake, legalize hypodermic needle possession and allow people to operate needle exchanges.

Kaleb Herndon is a Seymour resident. Send comments to [email protected].

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