Arrests Made In Opana-Related HIV Outbreak

Arrests Made In Opana-Related HIV Outbreak

By McCarton Ackerman 06/26/15

Four men have been arrested for distributing the intravenous painkiller that led to Indiana's HIV outbreak.

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Three months after Indiana Gov. Mike Pence declared a public health emergency in the state due to a sudden boom in new HIV infections linked to intravenous use of the painkiller Opana, four men have been arrested on drug charges related to its distribution.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration confirmed that Michael Elkins and John Morgan were arrested just outside of Louisville, Ky., on June 16. Tyler Turner and William Thrower were arrested four days later. All four men are now being held at the Clark County Jail in lieu of $50,000 bond.

A search of the truck that Elkins and Morgan were found in led to DEA officials confiscating four pounds of methamphetamine, 19 Opana pills, and an assault rifle. Authorities reported that Elkins was distributing Opana and meth in the Scott County area in Indiana for about eight months and selling the latter for as much as $160 per pill. He made several additional trips to Alabama to obtain the painkiller.

After declaring a public health emergency due to the more than 150 new reported cases of HIV, Pence extended it for another 30 days on April 20. Pence approved Scott County to have a supervised needle exchange program and then signed a law to expand the program. However, he declined to make this available statewide.

Addicts and community activists in the area have also reported having their needles confiscated by police. Drug users are expected to register at the exchange in order to get new needles, but a fear of the police has made many reluctant to do so. This uneasiness wasn't helped when Sheriff Dan McClain told the New York Times that "if they've got one needle and they're not in the program, they're going to jail."

Brittany Combs, the public health nurse for Scott County, said that a lack of access to clean needles means that addicts are sharing needles up to a staggering 300 times. Local health officials are now taking greater steps to educate the public about HIV and AIDS.

The "You Are Not Alone" campaign, already running on TV and radio stations, targets both IV drug users and other high-risk groups including those who engage in risky sexual behavior.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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