Free HIV testing had not been available in the community since a local Planned Parenthood clinic closed in 2013, and the virus had quickly spread among people in Scott County who were reusing needles to inject a prescription opioid called Opana. In 2017, at the US Food and Drug Administration’s request, pharmaceuticals company Endo International took the powerful opioid off the market because it was widely abused.
The infections had reached 126 cases in a relatively small geographical area around January 2015, but it took until March of that year for Pence to declare a public health emergency.
“I am confident that together we will stop this HIV outbreak in its tracks,” Pence said at the time.
“I do not enter into this lightly,” he said, the Star reported. “In response to a public health emergency, I’m prepared to make an exception to my long-standing opposition to needle exchange programs.”
“Acting as if the community refused to use a proven public health tool is disingenuous at best. The tool was illegal. Law had to be changed. The Governor intervened by executive order. The legislature passed a bill changing the law on the final night of the session, and Governor Pence signed it shortly thereafter,” Fox wrote.
After this story published, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who served as Indiana’s state health commissioner during the HIV crisis, said efforts taken by himself and Pence served as an example to other states in handling an HIV outbreak.
“Working together, we helped address the outbreak by implementing comprehensive syringe services programs (SSPs) that helped change the scope of the unprecedented crisis,” Adams said. “As a result, our efforts became a model for how other states and localities respond to similar crises — states like Kentucky, for example, went from zero to more than 70 comprehensive SSPs, to prevent future outbreaks and help people in need of care.”
The vice president is scheduled to discuss coronavirus in an appearance with Sean Hannity on Fox News Thursday night.
Some Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have pointed to Pence’s record in Indiana to criticize Trump’s decision to put him in charge of the government response.
“Do keep in mind that this vice president has dealt with a public health emergency before, in Indiana. And what was his approach? It was to put politics over science and let a serious virus expand in his state and cost people lives. He is not the person who should be in charge,” she said.
This story has been updated to include a response from Adams.
CNN’s Nikki Carvajal contributed to this report.