The Barren River District Health Department has received nearly $250,000 through three grants from the Kentucky Department of Public Health to continue or expand programs targeting diabetes and substance use disorders.
With $212,000, the department will address the region’s high prevalence of diabetes and prediabetes. The department offers a yearlong prevention program for those at high risk, as well as Diabetes Group Education Classes designed to help people diagnosed with diabetes to cope with the emotionally taxing disease while lessening symptoms and preventing complications through healthy lifestyle education.
With more than a tenth of the region’s population diagnosed with diabetes – which also affects the patients’ families – reducing diabetes would significantly impact the community.
“We’re really focused on prevention and early intervention,” said health department Director Matt Hunt.
The department received a second grant totaling $21,000 to tackle tobacco cessation.
“Our biggest focus with the tobacco grant is tobacco-free schools,” said Ashley Lillard, the department’s population health branch manager.
With the funds, two health department staff members will become “tobacco education specialists,” and the department will attempt to influence strong tobacco policy and increase tobacco-free signage around district school campuses to create visibility among both students, faculty and parents.
There will also be a media campaign at the Franklin Drive-In and a billboard design contest among local middle school students centered on 100 percent tobacco-free schools.
Though focused on “tobacco-free” efforts, the department will simultaneously address the surge of e-cigarette use in schools – and the lack of education regarding the high nicotine contents and addiction risks.
“One Juul pod is equivalent to a pack of cigarettes. That is an intense amount of nicotine,” Hunt said.
The third grant will also target substance use disorder in the form of syringe safety and stigma reduction.
BRDHD’s “harm reduction” staff received $16,000 to double syringe exchange hours at the Warren and Barren county locations. Currently, the department offers syringe exchanges on Thursdays from noon to 4 p.m. at the two locations and once a month off-site. In addition to exchanging needles, the department offers screenings for HIV and hepatitis C, treatment referrals, injection safety education and the opioid antidote Narcan to clients and members of the public.
“Keeping dirty needles off the streets and out of playgrounds, keeping our pets from consuming dirty needles … this has a large net to reduce harm in this area,” Hunt said. “It benefits the individual, and pays dividends in other areas.”
The department will also develop short PSA-style videos on the importance of harm reduction that will be spread via social media and a partnership with a local TV station.
“The biggest part is on the stigma surrounding harm reduction and substance use disorder,” Lillard said.
Considering local data, Hunt suggested the grants have the potential to significantly impact the community.
“There’s clearly a need for each of these programs in our district,” he said.