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In Northern Kentucky, Fears of Another Injection Drug Use-Driven HIV Outbreak Mount

State health labs and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have begun investigating a cluster of new HIV infections in Northern Kentucky. The counties of Kenton and Campbell are home to 18 people who were newly diagnosed as HIV positive in 2017 and who reported syringe sharing behaviors. Concern is mounting that the 40% rise in HIV rates from 2016 to 2017 in Northern Kentucky may indicate an emerging injection drug use-driven, Scott County, Indiana-like HIV outbreak.

While public health officials advocated for the expansion of resources in the region, and, in particular, the authorization and implementation of syringe access programs (SAPs), such plans were met with political challenges. Since statewide authorization of SAPs in 2015, Campbell County—one of the 220 counties identified by the CDC in 2016 as vulnerable to outbreaks of HIV or hepatitis C—approved the implementation of an SAP, but no host city has emerged for it. Meanwhile the city of Covington in Kenton County has approved an SAP, but its implementation has been held up by the stipulation that two additional counties in the region must also host SAPs. 

Since injection drug use was found to be the major driver of a 2014 HIV outbreak in Scott County, Indiana, the CDC mobilized to allow federal funds to be redirected toward SAPs. States must have completed a Determination of Need Justification with the CDC, and if necessary, must have authorized SAPs through state or local legislation. The states that have not yet received the Determination of Need Justification include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Texas, while Delaware and Ohio have received determinations of need for select counties but not statewide. Technical assistance for Departments of Health interested in authorizing and implementing SAPs is available from NASTAD, and community-based organizations may reach out to AIDS United’s Getting to Zero program or the Harm Reduction Coalition for capacity-building and technical assistance.

As Northern Kentucky’s warning signs demonstrate, public health officials cannot act alone. Government officials must swiftly enact policies that address resource gaps and put their political clout behind real solutions to the current opioid crisis.

For more detail, read Drew Gibson’s “Injection Drug Use-Related HIV Infections Skyrocket in Northern Kentucky, Underscoring Immediate Need for Syringe Access Programs” in

Posted By: AIDS United, Policy Department - Friday, January 12, 2018

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