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Indiana HIV Outbreak Tied to Injected Opioids: CDC
The small and almost unknown town of Austin, Indiana – population 4,200 – is the center of the worst surge in cases of HIV and Hepatitis C in state history. And the epidemic is stemming entirely from one drug – Opana ER extended release oxymorphone – being injected with shared needles.
Although Opana ER is made in an “abuse deterrent” form, users easily have discovered how to get around that mechanism, said Dr. Jerome Adams, Indiana’s State Health Commissioner. “It’s important that we all understand that just because a drug comes in an abuse deterrent form, that doesn’t automatically make it safe.”
By April of this year, the number of confirmed cases of HIV in southeastern Indiana had climbed to 136 just since November 2014. And this is in a region that historically has seen less than 5 cases a year. Meanwhile, there were six additional preliminary cases, said CDC officials, awaiting confirmation. If positive it would bring the total to 141.
Added to the HIV, co-infection with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) also has been diagnosed in nearly 85 percent of patients.
The number of HIV cases rang alarm bells all the way from rural Indiana to the CDC. The state’s chief medical consultant told a CDC briefing that roughly four out of five infected patients reported injection drug use, while some of the others reported partners as injection drug users.
In Scott County, where most of the current infections are, fewer than five cases of HIV per year have been reported in the past. “This is the first outbreak of its type that we have seen documented in recent years,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS in Atlanta.
Opana ER and shared syringes – a deadly combination
The majority of cases have been linked to dissolving tablets of the prescription opioid oxymorphone (Opana ER or Extended Release) and injecting it using shared syringes.
“We have not seen an outbreak of HIV specifically associated with the injection of oral opiates previously,” Mermin said. And the Indiana State Department of Health said that the injection drug use is “a group activity in this population” – with as many as three generations of a family, along with multiple community members, all injecting together and sharing needles.
Patients have ranged in age from 18 to 57 years and are on average 35 years old. A total of nearly 55 percent are male.
Opana (oxymorphone) has a half-life of approximately 4 hours. That means dependent users begin to feel withdrawal symptoms around that time. “We have heard that folks are injecting from 4 to over 10 times a day,” one official said.
Once crushed, the Opana pills are less “dissolvable” than, for example, heroin. The anti-abuse formula renders it thick and lumpy, requiring a thicker gauge needle to inject. “That is making the sharing of needles an even higher risk activity,” said Health Commissioner Adams, “because you’re being inoculated with higher amounts of HIV virus.”
Needle exchange programs are currently illegal in Indiana, so the only recourse for addicts is to buy or steal new needles, or share used needles. In late March, Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) signed an executive order authorizing a 30-day needle exchange program, and then was persuaded to extend the program for another 30 days. But needle exchange alone “is minimally effective,” said Adams, “so it must be part of a comprehensive response.”
Indiana has a prescription drug monitoring program that lets health officials give physicians feedback about their prescribing habits, Adams said. The state also is taking “a four-pronged approach to the outbreak” that includes the development of a ‘one-stop shop’ that provides testing, treatment, and follow-up; a needle-exchange program now being offered by the Scott County Health Department; a public awareness campaign and additional HIV testing and treatment at a local health clinic.
“This outbreak that we’re seeing in Indiana is really the tip of an iceberg of a drug abuse problem that we see in the U.S. that is putting people at very high risk for infectious diseases,” Adams said.
And the CDC has released a health advisory to alert healthcare providers and health departments of the HIV outbreak and HCV co-infection. The advisory details how to identify and prevent the spread of HIV and HCV and urges providers to refer patients with substance abuse problems for medication-assisted treatment and counseling.
The principal adverse effects of Opana (oxymorphone) are similar to other opioids. The most common are constipation, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, dry mouth and drowsiness. Of course, it’s highly addictive and can lead to dependence, withdrawal symptoms or overdose.
Here at Novus, we routinely achieve great success treating dependencies to prescription opioids such as Opana ER. If you or a loved one needs help with an opiate dependence, don’t hesitate to call Novus. We’re always here to help.
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