Our view: Needle exchange taking stab at health epidemic 

Published 4:25 pm Tuesday, December 13, 2016

In January, local government will revisit the topic of a needle-exchange program operated by the Clark County Health Department.

The program was approved for six months in the spring by both the Winchester Board of Commissioners and the Clark County Fiscal Court.

Since the exchange opened in July 15, 63 people have participated for a total of 188 visits. As of Dec. 2, 3,096 used needles have been collected and 4,175 have been dispensed.

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While fighting drug addiction is one facet of the exchange, another is stemming the spread of other diseases including HIV and Hepatitis C. During the last three months, 29 cases of Hepatitis C were reported in Clark County, according to local health officials.

Kentucky had the highest rate of acute hepatitis C cases in the nation from 2010 through 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Since then, the state has also seen an increase in people who inject drugs, such as heroin and fentanyl, which increases the potential for the spread of blood-borne diseases.

One of the benefits of the exchange program is removing needles from the community and reducing the threat of accidental sticks from used needles, as well as the spread of HIV and hepatitis C.

Needles and syringes used by IV drug users can carry HIV and all three varieties of hepatitis, which can survive for weeks  and possibly infect unsuspecting people who are accidentally stuck by the needles.

Needle exchange programs reduce the number of dirty needles in the community and make responding to emergencies safer for medical personnel and law enforcement.

Participants have access to medical testing, vaccinations, referrals to counseling and other services and enrollment in health care coverage. Health department officials report that three participants in the local exchange program have enrolled in residential drug treatment programs.

It’s clear that in just the first five months the local needle exchange program is making an impact, and such programs around the state have the potential to curb a health epidemic.

In a 2004 report, the World Health Organization said numerous studies show there is no evidence that needle-exchange programs cause drug abusers to increase their drug use or that they cause more people to begin using drugs.

What do we have to lose by offering such a program in our community?

We urge Clark County’s leaders to consider the benefits of this program and offer their continued support in January.