A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Needle exchange programs becoming more wide-spread in KY; HIV, hepatitis outbreaks slow

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditEmail this to someone

From Kentucky Health News

Needle exchanges may be difficult for some people to accept, but they are better than outbreaks of hepatitis and HIV or accidental injury from discarded needles, officials in Kentucky counties that have established the exchanges told Bill Estep of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

“Programs allowing intravenous drug users to exchange dirty syringes for clean ones are spreading in Kentucky as communities confront growing heroin abuse and concerns over the potential for disease outbreaks caused by addicts sharing needles,” Estep reports. “So far, health departments and local governments in 13 counties have approved needle exchanges, and 11 are in operation, according to the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services and local officials.”

(Editor’s Note: Kenton County has approved a mobile needle exchange and so has the City of Covington. Both are contingent on Boone County or Campbell County joining the effort. Campbell County Fiscal Court has voted to approve a needle exchange and now awaits support by the City of Newport. If approved the exchange will be operated by the Northern Kentucky Health Department. Pendleton County has a program.)

HIVandHepCriskH-Lmap

Kentucky leads the nation in hepatitis C cases and has 54 of the 220 counties that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers most at risk for HIV or hepatitis outbreaks from shared needles, based on “statistics such as numbers of overdose deaths, per capita income, unemployment and sales of painkillers,” Estep notes.

“Kentucky had 18 counties that the CDC calculated to be more vulnerable than Scott County, Indiana, to a disease outbreak among IV drug users, with Wolfe County considered at greatest risk in the nation.”

Some local officials “said they’ve faced concerns that giving needles to drug users enables or condones illegal drug activity, or will make the local drug problem worse,” Estep reports.

Republican Judge-Executive Mike Malone of Carter County said “he shared those concerns when officials from the health department brought up the idea.” Malone said he changed his mind because of the potential for the program to head off disease and get addicts into treatment.

“It’s not about enabling them to take drugs. It’s about stopping the spread of disease,” Malone said. “The more you learn about it, the more you’ll understand it’s the right thing to do.”

Estep reports, “Health officials said they understand some people don’t like the idea of providing drug users with needles at public expense, but they argue the potential cost to taxpayers of not doing so is far worse.”

Needle exchanges are operated by local health departments with approval of the county health board, the fiscal court and the city where the exchange is located, under a law passed by the 2015 General Assembly.

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditEmail this to someone

Related Posts

Leave a Comment