Eugene Slone, Chairperson for Letcher County United for Substance Abuse Prevention, presented the needle exchange program to Whitesburg Rotary Club members during the Feb. 27 Rotary meeting.
The program, approved by the local health department, Letcher County Fiscal Court, and Whitesburg City Hall, is scheduled to begin April 1. It will operate through the Letcher County Health Department. The program will make available sharps containers for participants to store used needles. Participants will then bring in the used needles and exchange them for clean ones. During the exchange visit, participants will be offered health counseling services, screening for HIV and Hepatitis C, treatment options, and information on rehabilitation.
Slone shared with Rotary members some startling facts about drug use in Letcher County as well as nationwide. Letcher County has been flagged as one of 57 counties in Kentucky that is at high risk for the HIV outbreak due to the widespread use of intravenous drugs. It is estimated that 10 percent of the residents of Letcher County are infected by Hepatitis C, which is much more contagious than HIV.
Out of 220 counties in the U.S. most vulnerable to HIV and Hepatitis C outbreaks, 54 are in Kentucky. Of the top 10 in the U.S., eight are in eastern Kentucky. Letcher County ranks 50th.
“The goal of the needle exchange program is to prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C in Letcher County,” said Slone. Slone added the needle exchange program is one way to reduce these diseases and connect people who inject drugs with needed support services.