Louisville Magazine

AUG 2015

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 8.15 45 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 8.15 45 A small city with a deep history of addiction and poverty is now known for an HIV outbreak. Austin, Indiana, hopes this wake- up call will lead to lasting change. the craving T he girls, they like to nod of. Te boys do too. Slip into the twilight during waking hours. Teresa tells me this on a sunny June afternoon outside her boxy rental home. She's a 49-year-old with stringy blond hair, blue eyes, and fne features that a California beach missed out on. She has lived in Aus- tin, Indiana, her whole life. Te mother of two has a 26-year-old son in prison. Cops found nine Lorcets on him. Her daughter, Jessica, a 30-year-old whose pretty face is built as tough and square as a fst, is passed out inside — lulled by a Xanax and a half — her thick brown hair twisted into a thicket atop her head. She's in the void, no edges or fears. Mom and daughter haven't eaten a meal in four days. Te drugs kill hunger. And they've got no money. "I did two (Xanax) but I can still talk to you," Teresa says, standing in a breezy sway. She and many others in town don't want last names included. No one wanted to end up this way, stuck in what lately feels like spectacle. Behind her, nine dogs refuse to quiet their raspy barks. Te gray mixed one chained to a tree sinks its teeth into legs as they walk away, illustrated by scabby con- stellations on Teresa's calves. She can't go to rehab with nine dogs to care for. But Jessica wants to get clean. "Get me into rehab before I change my mind," she'll say to nurses, her mom, even strangers. She's been waiting for weeks. Tere's a problem with paperwork or something. So she sleeps. Tat way, a quarter of an Opana pill, just a quarter, just enough to satisfy the cravings in her few alert hours, can fght what lurks on the other side — the shakes that rattle so deep fngers can't man- age pen on paper, the runs never ending, an anger so hot you long to slice your own fesh. And some do. Withdrawals can kill you. Or at least, feel like they will. Opana, a brand name for oxymorphone, is a powerful prescription opioid intended to treat chronic pain. When snorted or injected, it blasts a euphoric high. Like heroin, users feel soothed, blessed. Pain comes later. One Austin family lost both parents and a daughter within six months due to overdoses. A grandmother of 18 grandchildren can only count four who are not in state custody because of their par- ents' addictions. Ask anyone in Austin and they'll tell you drug abuse was a problem here long before the Opana abuse started about fve years ago. Back in 2001, a chubby-cheeked 12-year-old with blond streaks named Whitney was given an OxyContin by her uncle in the parking lot of an Austin bar. She got hooked. Dealers didn't care that she was 12. "Didn't matter what age you were. Tey sold to kids, so long as you had the money," Whitney, now 27, recalls. Tat's not big news though. Tis rural, tree-lined community 30 miles north of Louisville, just of Interstate 65, is a one-stoplight, one-truck-stop, one-physi- cian community. Secrets don't endure here. Everyone knows. Everyone knew. Dr. Tom Friedan, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, estimat- ed that as many as 10 percent of Austin's 4,200 residents inject drugs, mostly liqui- fed Opanas. I n January, a pregnant woman from Scott County, where Austin is located, tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. She named people she had shared needles with. Soon there were six, then 11 positive cases. Panic set in. Te Indiana State Department of Health and the CDC came to Scott County, a pas- toral setting that's home to about 24,000 people. Disease-intervention specialists started tracking down hundreds of users. In March, Gov. Mike Pence declared a public health emergency. Te number of HIV-positive cases continued to climb — 80, 140. Reportedly, one man named 57 people he'd shared needles with. "People are poor here," one woman tells me. "We share everything." Te thinking went: I share blood with my brother, so why can't we share needles? You could buy a used needle for $5. Some were reused hundreds of times, until they snapped in the arm. By June, the Southern Indiana outbreak reached 169 HIV-positive cases, more in- jection-drug-caused cases than occurred in all of New York City last year, according to the CDC's Friedan. It is the largest HIV outbreak in Indiana history, and CDC of- By Anne Marshall Photos by William DeShazer

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