As my boss Nate Silver wrote Thursday, most people in the U.S. don’t know much about Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Donald Trump’s vice-presidential pick. That’s likely not the case among public health professionals, given Pence’s rather notorious recent history with public health policy.
Take, for example, an ongoing outbreak of HIV in southern Indiana. From December 2014 to May of this year, 191 cases of HIV, nearly all linked to the injection of the painkiller Opana, were found in Scott County, a rural area near the Kentucky border. Before the outbreak, there had been numerous deaths and known risks from the increase in injection drug use in the area for several years. Pence had long been a vocal opponent of needle exchange programs, which allow drug users to trade in used syringes for sterile ones in order to stop the spread of diseases, despite evidence that they work. Such programs were banned in the state when the outbreak started.
At the end of March last year, four months after the outbreak began, Pence declared a public health emergency, allowing needle exchanges to be opened in Scott County. Scott County Health Officer Dr. R. Kevin Rogers described the program as having “a tremendously positive and dramatic impact” and recently made a successful request to have the program extended until May 2017. At least four other counties have been allowed to start programs as well. Still, Pence hasn’t moved to lift the state ban on funding for needle exchanges and has made it clear in the past that he would veto any bill that tried to lift the ban statewide.
Pence has also shown a deep misunderstanding of basic public health principles in the past. In 2001, he wrote an op-ed declaring that “smoking …