Whitesburg KY

Needle exchange program will help slow HIV, hepatitis

We are all familiar with the drug epidemic Letcher County is now facing. We may have dealt with addiction ourselves, or through a loved one or peer. We all know we need more treatment options, resources and prevention techniques. Many people are familiar with the implementation of a needle exchange program in our community but may not be sure how it will work.

Through our program, Letcher County United for Substance Abuse Prevention (USAP), and our community partners, Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation and the Letcher County Health Department, we have pushed for the needle exchange in the county for the last year. Since approval has now been obtained from the Kentucky River District Board of Health, the Letcher County Fiscal Court and the Whitesburg City Council the exchange can begin. We understand the concerns or questions about program and will continue to help educate the community on the need for needle exchange.

Within the county’s needle exchange program at the Letcher County Health Department, participants will be able to enroll and receive an allotment of needles and a “sharps container” to properly store used needles. After an initial visit, participants will begin to bring in their used needles — in the provided sharps container — and exchange them for clean ones on a one-for-one basis. Participants will schedule an appointment during normal operating hours and will be offered a variety of treatment services, education and testing for Hepatitis, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

After the initial opening of the program at the local health department, MCHC plans to partner with the Kentucky River District Health Department in Hazard to provide needle exchanges throughout the Kentucky River region. This will be a valuable resource, not only for participants in the program but also for members of our community.

Our county’s needle exchange program will help reduce the spread of disease, which not only effects the needle users but their children, families and their community. The program can help reduce the number of dirty needles found littered on our streets and playgrounds. And with referrals to places like MCHC’s Behavioral Unit, participants can find treatment options when they desire.

The needle exchange program is not a cure to our problem, but it is a step in the right direction. We, as a community, have pulled together to help our own and we will not stop here.

(Malorey Webb coordinates the Letcher County Harm Prevention Project, a program of Letcher County United for Substance Abuse Prevention.)

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