HIV Spreading in Rural Counties Nationwide Due to Intravenous Drug Use

By Seth Ferranti 08/04/16

The CDC recently drafted a report stating that at least 220 US counties are highly vulnerable to the rapid spread of HIV among injection-drug users.

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HIV Spreading in Rural Counties Nationwide Due to Intravenous Drug Use

As the opioid crisis continues to flourish, seemingly unabated, it has taken over our national consciousness—from literature to politics to our criminal justice system—submerging our nation with reports on the epidemic while at the same time trying to figure out a way to resolve it. But as things tend to get worse before they get better, the Guardian is reporting that HIV is spreading in rural counties across the U.S. due to intravenous drug use.

“Back in the day, all we had to worry about was people drinking or smoking weed,” Gary Smith, a 25-year veteran of the Wolfe County sheriff’s department in Kentucky, told the Guardian. But since the mid-'90s, Kentucky, along with other midwest states like Indiana and West Virginia, has been in the death grips of the heroin epidemic, as the Mexican cartels flood our country with black tar heroin to fill the void created by the government's crackdown on “pain mills.” And the addicts don’t care about safety or clean needles or anything like that—all they care about is getting high.

“A lot of them are using needles over and over again,” Smith continued. Even throwing dirty needles at their fellow addicts, like a human dartboard, trying to get the syringes to stick. Swapping bodily fluids and blood, increasing their chances of getting infected by the HIV virus. Central Appalachia, the region composed of parts of Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia, is emerging as the new center of HIV among those shooting up heroin and other drugs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“For many years this was an urban issue, an inner-city issue, but what we learned from southern Indiana is that rural parts of our country are now at significant risk,” Ardis Hoven, an infectious disease specialist that works for Kentucky’s Department for Public Health, told the Guardian. “If you look at these areas, the uniqueness is not only the poverty, not only the issue of unemployment and early teen births and educational issues, but the cultural issues embedded in many of those areas.”

Hillbilly heroin, which started with OxyContin and is now being replaced with real heroin, has become an accepted part of life in these communities. And with the degradation of America’s poorest white neighborhoods, HIV infection is spreading and we might be faced with an epidemic that rivals the HIV scourge from the 1980s. If something isn’t done soon, we could be facing the same repercussions.

The White House committed $116 million to fight the opioid epidemic this past March, but more resources are needed. Needle exchanges would be a smart start in combatting the spread of the HIV infection among drug users. “There are small towns there where everyone knows everybody, everyone is having unprotected sex together,” said Donald Davis, co-founder of the Kentucky Harm Reduction Coalition. “But there are no syringe exchanges, no harm reduction programs, in those particular counties and in a lot of other counties in Kentucky.”

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at sethferranti.com. You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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