​Drug abuse, dirty needles fueling HIV crisis in Indiana

AUSTIN, Ind. -- Kevin Polly was diagnosed with HIV seven weeks ago. He's one of 89 new cases of HIV diagnosed in Austin, Indiana over the last few months.

And yet, he has no plans to quit injecting a drug called Opana, an opiate painkiller being sold on the streets for $100 a pill. On the day Polly spoke with CBS News, he'd already done it three times -- before two o'clock in the afternoon.

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Kevin Polly, an Opana addict, was recently diagnosed with HIV CBS News

"I'd like to say that I'm gonna quit. But I'd probably be lyin' to you," Polly said.

The addiction to Opana is so strong, Polly says, that even though he knew sharing needles was risky, he still wanted his fix.

"The number one priority, you know, was to getting to feel better," Polly said.

Austin is a place of high unemployment and low self-esteem, where some people dull the pain of everyday life with this current drug of choice. Opana is stronger than Oxycontin and easier to shoot up.

But the sharing of dirty needles among users is feeding the HIV infection in the community. Austin physician Dr. William Cooke said there are several neighborhoods at the epicenter of the outbreak.

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Dr. William Cooke CBS News

"All it takes is one person who is HIV positive, sharing needles," Cooke said. "It spreads like wildfire in situations like that."

The crisis is so severe that Gov. Mike Pence lifted Indiana's ban on needle exchanges for 30 days so that addicts can replace dirty syringes with clean ones.

"These are what I got yesterday. I got 35 of them," Polly said as he showed us his new syringes from the needle exchange. "That's enough to do me for a week."

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Kevin Polly shows the clean needles he took from a needle exchange in Austin, Indiana CBS News

Dr. Cooke says the rest of the nation should take notice.

"I've described this community as a canary in the coal mine. This could happen anywhere," Cooke said. "We are all Austin, Indiana."

Another disturbing element of the outbreak: Some elderly residents of the city have been arrested for trying to supplement their incomes by selling Opana on the street, instead of taking it for pain relief as their doctors intended.

  • Dean Reynolds
    Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.