AUSTIN — Brandon Terry reaches his hand into a brown paper bag and tosses its contents onto his coffee table — a pack of syringes, sterile cotton swabs, a ream of condoms. He also has an orange box with hazardous warning stickers on the side.
“I want to be clean and safe,” Terry, 31, said.
He’s one of the 449 Scott County, Indiana, residents who have visited the community outreach center, or One-Stop Shop, that has popped up in response to the HIV outbreak from IV drug use that has reached 160 positive cases.
Terry, who has tested negative for HIV, said that the needle-exchange program is not the only godsend from the state’s executive order. He said he’s finally getting help at LifeSpring Health Systems for the drug addiction he’s had on and off for 16 years.
“It’s not a joke. I mean, I messed up my life. I [chose] that road,” he said. “And now I’m trying to fix it.”
Terry said he gets chills talking about the One-Stop Shop and its staff, who he said are helpful and confidential.
There, he was able to sign up for HIP 2.0 state health insurance and receive his birth certificate the same day he requested it — after years of seeking both.
“I think it’s helping this county out, and I think surrounding counties need to come together on this or they’re going to have the outbreak,” he said of the merits of the needle exchange.
Senate Enrolled Act 461 means the needle-exchange program will remain in Scott County for a year — much longer than the two months that Gov. Mike Pence approved via two one-month increments of emergency orders.
The needle exchange program per SEA 461 does not come with funding, which leaves counties to identify local resources.
Scott County Public Health Nurse Brittany Combs said that will likely be from individual and company donors.
“As of right now, we’re in the beginning stages,” she said. “We’ve been very, very lucky that we’ve had donations so far.”
Though the ending of those orders Sunday, May 24, defunds the One Stop Shop, state officials said that it won’t be dissolved until a transitional plan is finalized.
“... The final community-based plan may look somewhat different, but it will include ongoing support of primary care, HIV care and mental health and addiction treatment,” State Epidemiologist Pam Pontones said at a news conference Thursday.
The state is still working out the details on what that will look like.
What Pontones does know is that the Austin Betterment Center, or ABC, Health Clinic will no longer be in Foundations Family Medicine but will move to a permanent location. Until then, the Indiana University health specialists will transfer to the One-Stop Shop.
Terry Stawar, CEO of LifeSpring, said that he is working with state officials to establish a substance abuse and mental health services site in Austin.
LifeSpring — a community mental health center that covers six counties including Scott — has 117 clients at its Scottsburg counseling center who live in Austin.
“These clients would be given the opportunity to transfer their services to this site [in Austin],” Stawar said. He said LifeSpring hopes to have its Austin clinic operational by June 15.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the nation’s largest HIV/AIDS nonprofit care provider, announced two weeks ago that it will be opening an HIV testing and treatment clinic as well as a pharmacy, both in Foundations Family Medicine.
Combs said she doesn’t know exactly what Scott County will look like a year from now — she’s been busy operating day-to-day. But she is hopeful for a bright future.
“Hopefully, this [one year program] helps kind ease peoples’ minds and say, ‘It’s not going away,’” she said. “We’re going to be here for the long haul.”
GOAL TO GET CLEAN
Terry remembers the day he started abusing drugs — Aug. 25, 2000. He was 16 years old, his father had just passed away and he had a dysfunctional relationship with his mother. He was in a lot of emotional pain, he said.
“So I switched to drugs and forgot about it all,” Terry said.
He’s been addicted to multiple drugs — heroin, cocaine, Opana. Right now, it’s methamphetamines.
He said it’s not even about getting high anymore. It’s about functioning.
“That’s the only thing that gets me out of bed,” Terry said. “I ache. I’m in pain. I’m weak.”
He said he was clean for about two years, until he injured his foot at work and went to a pain clinic.
“All I had to do was walk into my pain clinic and tell them I wanted Opana 40s [milligrams],” he said.
Drug addiction has affected his life in every way.
“It takes away everything. I mean, yeah, regret — it’s going to be there when you’re sober,” he said. “But who’s to say if you just keep on doing it, it’ll never come back? And that’s what I was doing. Every time I hurt, I was doing something.”
Terry scheduled an appointment with LifeSpring for Friday. He said he owes a lot to his supportive family.
“You shouldn’t look down on the people that [are addicted]. Nobody knows other peoples’ life and what they’ve been through,” he said. “ ... I hate it. That’s why I want to change.”
Beilman writes for the Jeffersonville (Ind.) News and Tribune.