Injection drug use has been increasing tremendously over the last few years in America, and with it, a sharp increase of new HIV and hepatitis C diagnoses. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, six percent of the 40,000 newly diagnosed cases of HIV in 2015 were attributed to IDU.
Yet, despite evidence that needle exchange programs reduce the risk of transmitting these diseases, several at risk counties across the nation have yet to approve them.
One of the biggest excuses government workers have for not implementing needle exchange programs is a theory that they condone drug use by not allowing users an opportunity to escape the habit. But as a recent CDC Vital Signs report shows, that’s completely false.
Syringe services programs, in fact, reduce risk by providing free sterile needles/syringes, referrals to mental health services and substance abuse treatment, safe disposal for used needles/syringes, and overdose treatment and education.
Madison County, located in east central Kentucky, has the highest rates of hepatitis C in America. And despite that 26 counties in the state (including Clark, Owsley, and Fayette) approved exchange programs, government workers in Madison still remain on the fence.
Overall, the state of Kentucky saw a 240 percent increase in acute hepatitis C between 2009 and 2013 — in comparison to the rest of America, which increased by only 22 percent.
After the outbreak in Austin County, India, where nearly 200 people contracted HIV because of injection drug use in just a few weeks, under the leadership of governor Mike Pence, it’s likely that other states will experience similar outbreaks if needle exchange programs aren’t implemented (click HERE to see if your state is at risk).
Unfortunately, in order for needle exchange services to be set up in counties like Madison, the local board of health and other governing bodies must approve it. Thankfully, board members are speaking out in favor.
Madison County Health Department Director Nancy Crewe said at a recent forum that needle exchange programs would implement a one-for-one exchange with dirty equipment exchanged for sterile needles and syringes, reports Richmond Register. Madison’s local exchange programs would also provide referrals for drug treatment and HIV/hepatitis testing, education, counseling, assistance in insurance enrollment, and as a result, Health Department Public Information Officer Jim Thacker points out, will see a reduction in the risk of HIV and hep C overall.
The next public forum for the Madison County Health Department on the proposed needle exchange program will be Tuesday, February 21, 7 p.m. at the Russel Acton Folk Center in Berea.