Caught off guard and ill- equipped to battle an HIV outbreak linked to intravenous drug use, a small town in southern Indiana serves as a sad example of what Kentucky should be trying to prevent.
To that end, officials in Lexington and Louisville have wisely said they want to start needle exchanges as soon as possible.
But, as the crisis in Austin, Ind., population 4,300, shows, heroin and its attendant ravages are far from just urban scourges.
Public health officials around Kentucky should get busy coordinating efforts and educating local elected officials and the public about the most effective ways to combat addiction and the related spread of blood-borne diseases.
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Last month, the legislature cleared the way for local governments and health departments to set up programs that give drug users clean needles and safely dispose of dirty ones.
And not a moment too soon, judging, from the grim news not just from Indiana but also Northern Kentucky.
The four-county Northern Kentucky Health Department reports nine times the national rate of hepatitis C infections, with cases up 80 percent since 2010. The hepatitis spike tracks the heroin spike. In 2011, about 5 out of every 100,000 Northern Kentuckians died from a heroin overdose. By 2012, the number jumped to 14 out of 100,000, making heroin overdose the ninth-leading cause of death.
Research from around the world has found that needle exchanges serve multiple public health purposes. Users are more likely to be tested and treated for blood-borne diseases like HIV and hepatitis. Users are also connected to addiction treatment programs.
The American Medical Association and World Health Organization report that needle exchanges, coupled with counseling, are effective in reducing the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
The state Department of Public Health has put together a working group, including large and small health departments and providers, to develop best practices and protocols.
The heroin bill enacted last month reflects real progress in lawmakers' understanding of drug abuse and addiction as a public health challenge.
For it to really make a difference that newfound enlightenment must take root in local soil.