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Indiana Governor Overrides Law to Authorize Needle Exchange

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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence responds to a question during a news conference Wednesday, March 25, 2015, in Scottsburg, Ind. Pence held a news conference after meeting with local officials in Scott County about an HIV outbreak. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence responds to a question during a news conference Wednesday, March 25, 2015, in Scottsburg, Ind. Pence held a news conference after meeting with local officials in Scott County about an HIV outbreak. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

RICK CALLAHAN, Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Gov. Mike Pence overrode state law and his own anti-drug policies Thursday to authorize a short-term needle-exchange program designed to help contain HIV infections in a rural county where more than six dozen cases have been reported, all of them tied to intravenous drug use.

Pence issued an executive order declaring a public health emergency in Scott County, an economically depressed area about 30 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky, that has seen 79 new infections since December. The county typically sees only about five HIV cases each year, health officials said.

All of those infected either live in Scott County or have ties to the county, and all of the infections have been linked to needle sharing among drug users.

Most of the infections involve people who injected a liquefied form of the prescription painkiller Opana. Methamphetamine and heroin account for the remaining cases, health officials said.

Pence, a Republican, said officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who arrived in the county Monday said it would be “medically appropriate” to authorize some type of needle-exchange program to help stem the infections.

Such programs are illegal in Indiana, and Pence has opposed needle exchanges as part of drug-control efforts. But his order allows Scott County officials to request state approval for a limited, short-term program.

The governor said he was acting to halt the spread of the virus “despite my reservations” about providing clean needles to addicts.

Needle-exchange programs allow drug users to turn in used hypodermic needles in return for sterile ones in an effort to contain diseases such as HIV and hepatitis. HIV is spread mostly through sex.

Pence’s executive order will run for 30 days. After that period, he will consider whether to extend it for another 30 days.

Scott County’s cases have surged from 26 in late February to nearly 80, and that number is expected to rise. Officials are trying to contact as many as 100 people tied to those with confirmed infections of the virus that causes AIDS.

Pence’s order directs the state health department to set up a command center to coordinate HIV and substance-abuse treatment and establish a mobile unit to enroll people in a state-run health program to get HIV testing and treatment.

The state has also launched a public-awareness campaign focusing on drug treatment, infection prevention, safe sex, needle disposal and HIV testing and treatment.

“This is all hands on deck. This is a very serious situation,” Pence said.

After meeting with Pence, Scott County Sheriff Dan McClain said Wednesday that his county has been fighting prescription pills for years, and the infections tied largely to Opana are just the latest development in a long-running drug-abuse trend that has drained local resources.

“We have become the local rehab, mental health and treatment center, as well as the correction center here,” McClain said.

Don Des Jarlais, director of research for the chemical dependency institute at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York, said the places most vulnerable to infections include rural and suburban communities where a new group of drug users started with prescription painkillers and moved onto injecting heroin.

Without drug treatment or syringe-exchange programs, these areas “are ripe for outbreaks, and we should expect more of them unless we really ramp up our HIV-prevention services in those areas,” he said.

The county’s 79 HIV cases represent more than half of the 146 new HIV cases that have been confirmed statewide in Indiana since January, said Ken Severson, a spokesman for the Indiana State Department of Health. The recent surge in infections is the state’s largest-ever HIV outbreak.

Des Jarlais called on Pence to make the needle-exchange program permanent.

“The potential for continued transmission,” he said, “will be there for a decade or more” in southern Indiana.

___

AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson in Chicago contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Activism

What Took So Long? Statue of Henrietta Lacks Will Replace Robert E. Lee Monument

In a video of a December 19 press conference posted on the city’s Facebook page, it was announced that a statue honoring Henrietta Lacks will be unveiled in fall of 2023 in the very place that once held a monument dedicated to Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The new statue’s permanent home, which was once named Lee Plaza, was renamed Lacks Plaza in Henrietta’s honor.

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Henrietta Lacks / City of Roanoke Facebook page.
Henrietta Lacks / City of Roanoke Facebook page.

The Black woman whose cells have helped advance medical research will be honored in her hometown

By Angela Johnson

The city of Roanoke, Va., is honoring a Black woman who made tremendous contributions to modern medical research without her knowledge or consent.

In a video of a December 19 press conference posted on the city’s Facebook page, it was announced that a statue honoring Henrietta Lacks will be unveiled in fall of 2023 in the very place that once held a monument dedicated to Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

The new statue’s permanent home, which was once named Lee Plaza, was renamed Lacks Plaza in Henrietta’s honor.

Civil Rights attorney Ben Crump, who was on hand for the press conference, said the new Lacks statue is a step toward healing some of the racial divisions of the past. “In the past, we commemorated a lot of men with statues that divided us,” he said. “Here in Roanoke, Va., we will have a statue of a Black woman who brings us all together.”

Fundraisers collected over $160,000 for the project. Roanoke artist Bryce Cobbs created the sketch for the 400-pound bronze sculpture based on two photographs.

And Larry Bechtel, a Blacksburg, Virginia, artist, will sculpt the statue of Lacks who was a Roanoke native.

“I really wanted to have a distinguished, powerful pose. And I wanted her looking up. I always remember, like, looking up as being something like a feeling of proudness and of having that confidence in yourself and the strength in who you are,” Cobbs told NPR.

Henrietta Lacks was undergoing treatment for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951 when doctors sent portions of her cancerous tissue to another laboratory without her consent. Lacks passed away in October of that year at age 31.

Researchers used her tissue to harvest a line of living cells known as HeLa cells that are still used in medical research today.

According to Johns Hopkins, the HeLa cells have contributed to several major medical developments over the past several decades, such as the development of polio and COVID-19 vaccines and the study of leukemia and AIDS.

Johns Hopkins says they have never sold or profited from the HeLa cells and have shared them freely for other scientific research.

That is little consolation to the Lacks’ family, who is still seeking justice on Henrietta’s behalf.

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California One Of 18 States That Reached $5.7 Billion Opioid Settlement with Walgreens

“This settlement is another win in our ongoing fight to bring help and healing to California communities harmed by the opioid crisis,” said Bonta. “To all those struggling with substance abuse disorders, to all those desperately in need of treatment and recovery options — help is on the way.”

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California Attorney General Rob Bonta. Bonta was sworn in as the 34th Attorney General of the State of California on April 23, 2021. (Office of the California Attorney General via Bay City News)
California Attorney General Rob Bonta. Bonta was sworn in as the 34th Attorney General of the State of California on April 23, 2021. (Office of the California Attorney General via Bay City News)

By Olivia Wynkoop
Bay City News Foundation

California Attorney General Rob Bonta, alongside 17 other attorneys general, announced a $5.7 billion settlement agreement with the pharmacy retailer Walgreens for their alleged contribution to the opioid epidemic.

The settlement reached Monday resolves a multistate lawsuit alleging Walgreens fueled and profited from the opioid addiction crisis by dispensing substances without proper oversight.

The abatement funds, which will be split amongst participating states, may bring in over $500 million to California’s ongoing efforts to provide treatment and services to those addicted to opioids.

“This settlement is another win in our ongoing fight to bring help and healing to California communities harmed by the opioid crisis,” said Bonta. “To all those struggling with substance abuse disorders, to all those desperately in need of treatment and recovery options — help is on the way.”

Walgreens also has to satisfy court-ordered requirements to help prevent another substance abuse crisis from occurring again. The company agreed to create a program to train employees on drug diversion prevention, investigate “suspicious” prescriptions before dispensing them and allow for site visits at pharmacy locations.

Walgreens also agreed to provide sales data from its distributor to drug manufacturers, in efforts to help identify and prevent times where prescription medicines are obtained illegally

Last month, Walmart also reached a multi-billion-dollar settlement agreement with state attorneys general to resolve a lawsuit with similar claims.

California is currently assessing settlement terms with CVS, another retail pharmacy chain that attorneys general alleged to have fueled the opioid crisis.

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Activism

Oakland Frontline Healers Host “Circle of Peace” Event at Lake Merritt December 28

The ‘Circle of Peace’ will be preceded by a ‘peace caravan’ starting at Liberation Park at 7101 Foothill Blvd at 3 p.m. It will arrive at the north end of Lake Merritt at 5:30 p.m. where artists will entertain the crowd. Candle stations will be established at north, south, east, and west locations on the lake. “Please bring your children. It’s time to teach peace.”

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Tanya Dennis, lead facilitator of Oakland Frontline Healers and board chair of Adamika Village says that “We are teaching peace and ‘The African Way’ in the Black community. We hope we can get every citizen in Oakland to join us to bring peace to the streets by supporting our Circle of Peace event.” Photo courtesy of Tanya Dennis.
Tanya Dennis, lead facilitator of Oakland Frontline Healers and board chair of Adamika Village says that “We are teaching peace and ‘The African Way’ in the Black community. We hope we can get every citizen in Oakland to join us to bring peace to the streets by supporting our Circle of Peace event.” Photo courtesy of Tanya Dennis.

By Post Staff

On Dec. 28, over 20 Black nonprofits will stage the largest “Circle of Peace” in the history of Oakland around Lake Merritt. Their intent is to galvanize every citizen in Oakland to join them in a citywide appeal for “Peace in the Streets.”

“We need 1,500 men, women and children, standing 12 feet apart to totally encircle the lake,” says Tanya Dennis, member of Adamika Village #StopKillingOurKidsMovement and Oakland Frontline Healers (OFH).

“Dec. 28 is the third day of Kwanzaa, which honors ‘Ujima,’ collective work and responsibility,” said Dennis, who is lead organizer of the Circle of Peace event. “The purpose of Ujima is to build and maintain the Black community and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together.

“It takes a village to heal a village,” Dennis said.

The ‘Circle of Peace’ will be preceded by a ‘peace caravan’ starting at Liberation Park at 7101 Foothill Blvd at 3 p.m. It will arrive at the north end of Lake Merritt at 5:30 p.m. where artists will entertain the crowd.

Candle stations will be established at north, south, east, and west locations on the lake. “Please bring your children. It’s time to teach peace.”

The organizers are asking 1,500 of Oakland’s brothers and sisters to come to Lake Merritt at 6:30 p.m., stand 12 feet apart and light a candle, and stand in silence from 7-7:30 p.m. to “shift the energy in Oakland and end violence.”

“Let’s make this go national and inform the nation Oakland wants and supports peace in the streets,” Dennis said. A drone will record the event.

Last year’s “Peace in the Streets” event saw the installation of hundreds of peace banners installed on International Boulevard.

Darren White, CEO of Realized Potential, teaches fatherhood workshops for youth regarding how to be good fathers, respect women and disavow violence in resolving conflicts. Photo courtesy of Darren White.

Darren White, CEO of Realized Potential, teaches fatherhood workshops for youth regarding how to be good fathers, respect women and disavow violence in resolving conflicts. Photo courtesy of Darren White.

Oakland Frontline Healers, Oakland’s premiere COVID-19 response team, comprises 19 Black-led nonprofits dedicated to the restoration, building, and healing of the Black community through providing resources, projects, and events.

The organization has also led development of a Black mental health initiative in partnership with the East Bay Association of Black Psychologists.

A collaboration with Adamika Village #StopKillingOurKidsMovement, MACRO, Broken Chains Ministries, and the Oakland Fire Department and headed by OFH member Realized Potential Inc., is hosting a community holiday event on Dec. 18 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at East Bay Dragons headquarters, located at 8731 International Blvd.

Realized Potential, which is headed by Darren White, does pop-up community resource events at local Oakland hot spots where gun violence has occurred to show residents that there are people and organizations engaged in gun violence prevention.

“We will provide Christmas gifts to youth and community members; we are serving food and distributing resource packets for community members that need information about jobs and housing,” White said. “We have hygiene kits, COVID-19 information, and PPE that will be available with hand sanitizer, masks, and home test kits — all free to the community.”

Realized Potential’s gift give-away and Adamika Village’s Circle of Peace are kicking off a series of OFH events in Oakland to prevent crime and show solidarity by modeling appropriate behavior for men and women involved in criminal behavior, utilizing their “African Way” philosophy.

OFH’s goal is to provide people with needed resources in order to change their behavior, put down guns, and end the violence that’s disrupting and traumatizing Oakland residents.

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