In an effort to combat drug use, sexually transmitted diseases and the stigma that goes along with them, the Barren River District Health Department plans to expand its syringe-exchange program to Logan County.
The health department recently received a $17,346 grant from United Way of Southern Kentucky to boost public education, purchase basic supplies and obtain approval for a new Harm Reduction and Syringe Exchange Program in Logan County.
These programs help connect clients to substance use disorder treatment programs; social and mental health services; screening care and treatment for viral hepatitis, HIV and other STDs; vaccinations, abscess and wound care and naloxone distribution and education, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s much more of a holistic approach than simply exchanging needles,” said Matt Hunt, executive director of the Barren River District Health Department, which currently operates syringe-exchange programs in Bowling Green and Glasgow.
Sterile syringes reduce the risk of spreading blood-borne diseases during drug use. Syringe-exchange programs are associated with an estimated 50 percent reduction in HIV and hepatitis C incidence, according to the CDC, which identified nearby Allen, Monroe and Edmonson counties among the nation’s 220 counties most vulnerable to outbreaks of HIV or hepatitis C among people who inject drugs.
Harm reduction programs also help reduce opioid overdoses. With the new program, the health department will distribute naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote, to the Logan County community.
And these programs help protect children, adults and first responders from accidental needle sticks, according to Frankie Haynes, a health educator at the Barren River District Health Department.
“It gets dirty needles off the street,” Haynes said.
Since 2016, the health department has collected more than 66,000 needles. “Some people” have sought treatment after participating in the program, according to Haynes, and others were connected to partners in the community.
In Bowling Green, about 57 percent of clients self-reported using drugs three to five times per day, 24 percent reported using drugs one or two times per day, 9 percent reported using drugs six to eight times a day and about 8 percent reported using drugs nine or more times a day, according to Hunt.
Nearly a fifth of Bowling Green’s syringe-exchange program clients come from outside Warren County. Eventually, the health department wants to establish programs in the district’s eight counties, starting with communities along the Interstate 65 corridor.
“If we can overcome the stigma and help individuals seek care and ... recovery, that’s the ultimate goal,” Hunt said.
To implement a program in Logan County, the health department will need approval from the Russellville City Council and Logan Fiscal Court.
– Follow reporter Caroline Eggers on Twitter @eggers dailynews or visit bgdaily news.com.