WILLIAMSTOWN – It’s been three months since the inception of a needle exchange program operated by the Northern Kentucky Independent Health District in Williamstown was launched, and department officials are already proclaiming the operation a success.
Under the program, addicts bring in their dirty needles to the Grant County office on Wednesday’s between the hours of 1:00 and 4:00, as well as other days and times by appointment, and receive clean ones in an attempt to eliminate the sharing of needles which could lead to an outbreak of diseases like HIV and hepatitis C.
In its first three months, the program had 22 participants, with 11 referrals to drug treatment made. In addition, 12 naloxone kits were distributed.
Director of Clinical Services Jennifer Hunter says that the program is not a direct one-to-one, needle for needle exchange because research shows the approach is ineffective.
“There are a number of reasons why people do not bring in syringes,” Hunter said. “If somebody is bringing one syringe to you, and they’re saying I use heroin six times a day, and I use with my friends, all we’re going to do give them one back. What that means is that they will continue to share with other people.”
Hunter cautions the public about thinking that the needle exchange program will cut down on drug addiction.
While that’s certainly the hope in time, the actual goal is to prevent other things related to drug use.
“It’s one of the public health tools that we have for the comprehensive approach for the whole community,” Hunter said. “Our goal with this program is not to get them off the heroin, but to decrease and prevent the spread of disease.”
No taxpayer money is being used to operate the needle exchange, as all of the funding comes from grants.
As of mid-May, there were eight needle exchange programs operating in Kentucky; five more have approvals to start operations.