The federal government has awarded the state a record-breaking $26 million to help treat patients with HIV. The Indiana State Department of Health says it’s the largest award for HIV services in the state’s history.
ISDH Director of the Division of HIV, STD and Viral Hepatitis Dennis Stover says a large portion will be distributed to organizations providing drug addiction treatment for people already infected with the virus — through supporting and hiring new counselors and nurse practitioners.
He says drug use can make suppression treatment — which keeps other people from contracting the disease — ineffective.
“So as a public health official, we want the best treatment for those folks so they don’t infect other people,” he said.
Thus, Stover says, addiction therapy serves as a one-two punch for the epidemic. It keeps HIV positive people healthy and prevents other people from getting sick.
The grant is good for one year. After that, Stover says he hopes the federal government will approve a Medicaid waiver from the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration to help assist HIV patients with addiction.
Stover says addiction treatment is lacking at the state’s 16 comprehensive HIV treatment sites. In a state that experienced an HIV epidemic fueled by injection drug use — in Scott County — that’s dangerous.
“We only have one care site in the state that offers mental health services at an HIV care site,” he says. “So we hope to expand that to five or six sites where they would offer mental health services to their clients.”
Last year, more than 500 people were newly diagnosed with HIV or AIDs, according to the ISDH.
Stover says it’s difficult to estimate how many new HIV cases are due to injection drug use, but says the majority in Indiana are still spread through unsafe sex.
However, he says drug use has “shifted the landscape” when it comes to prevention and treatment.
Additionally, one-sixth of the $26 million will go to efforts to treat hepatitis C, which often occurs alongside HIV. Stover says for example, 94 percent of people in Scott County who have HIV also are infected with hepatitis C.
The funds will be funneled into counties with the highest number of people with HIV. In addition to Scott County, that includes Allen, Clark, Lake Madison, Marion, Monroe Tippecanoe, Vanderburgh and Vigo counties.
This story was produced by Side Effects Public Media, a reporting collaborative focused on public health.