A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Survey: Almost half of KY adults favor needle exchange; program education increases support

As leaders in Kentucky continue to implement strategies to reduce the harm of injection drug use, needle exchange programs are becoming more common throughout the Commonwealth.

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Data from the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services show that more than 50 such programs are currently operating in the state.

To better understand public opinion about these programs, which are also commonly called syringe access or syringe services programs, the 2018 Kentucky Health Issues Poll included questions on both familiarity and support for them among Kentucky adults.

The 2018 Kentucky Health Issues Poll was funded by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and Interact for Health. It was conducted Aug. 26-Oct. 21, 2018, by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati.

A random sample of 1,569 adults from throughout Kentucky was interviewed by telephone. For more information about the Kentucky Health Issues Poll, click here.

“First and foremost, programs that allow individuals who inject drugs access to clean needles and equipment are helping to reduce the spread of infectious disease, including HIV and hepatitis C,” said O’dell Moreno Owens, M.D., M.P.H., President and CEO of Interact for Health. “These programs also provide the opportunity to connect individuals to a broad array of health and social services, including substance abuse treatment programs, vaccinations and wound care. They are a key component as we work to address the opioid epidemic in our region.”

Dr. Owens

More than half of adults familiar with needle exchange programs

When asked about their knowledge of needle exchange programs, more than 5 in 10 Kentucky adults (54percent) said that they were familiar with such programs. Similar results were found when KHIP last asked this question in 2016.

More favor than oppose programs

When asked if they favor or oppose needle exchange programs, more Kentucky adults indicated support: KHIP found that 49percent said they favor, compared to 40percent who said they oppose needle exchange programs. An additional 10percent of respondents said they were unsure.

Again, these responses are similar to results from KHIP in 2016.

Support for needle exchange varied among certain groups. When looking at data by age, support was highest (57 percent) among adults ages 18 to 29. Support also varied by education level: Kentucky adults with a college degree indicated the highest levels of support at 65percent. Finally, Kentucky adults who live in urban areas (59 percent) were more likely than those living in rural areas to favor needle exchange programs. 

Knowledge of needle exchange linked to support

KHIP found that familiarity and support for needle exchange programs were related.

Among adults who said they were familiar or somewhat familiar with such programs, more than 5 in 10 (55 percent) said they were supportive, while four in 10 (40 percent) were opposed and 1 in 10 (5 percent) were unsure.

In comparison, among adults who said they were not very or not at all familiar with needle exchange programs, about 4 in 10 (43 percent) favored them, four in 10 (41 percent) were opposed and 2 in 10 (16 percent) were unsure.

“Since Kentucky law changed in 2015 to allow needle exchanges to be utilized as a harm reduction strategy, public health advocates and others have made significant effort to help Kentuckians understand the merits of and need for these programs,” said Owens. “It is encouraging to see that with education, comes additional support.”

Interact for Health is focused on improving the health of all people in the region. It serves as a catalyst by promoting health equity through grants, education, research, policy and engagement.

Interact for Health focuses on three strategic priorities: reducing tobacco use, addressing the opioid epidemic and ensuring that children have access to health care through school-based health centers. It is an independent foundation that serves 20 counties in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.

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