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Danville signs off on syringe exchange program for Boyle

The creation of a syringe exchange program in Boyle County gained the approval of Danville City Commission Monday night.

“I know it’s a difficult subject when you look at a community and we are looking at starting a harm reduction program, because honestly, nobody wants that, but it’s the reality of where we are and it’s something that we need,” Boyle County Health Department Director Brent Blevins said.

He said the program aims “to help reduce the rates of hepatitis C and HIV in this community and also to give some hope, some avenue to people who are using so they can find treatment.” 

The health department will see repeat exchangers, and as word of mouth spreads, more and more drug users will likely use the service, Blevins said.

Syringe exchanges are growing in numbers in Kentucky and are seen by supporters as a way to lower the risk of a disease outbreak and provide drug users with a path to possible rehabilitation. Exchanges usually allow drug users who inject drugs such as heroin using needles to exchange used needles for clean ones.

For a program to launch in Boyle, it requires the approval of the board of health, Danville City Commission and Boyle County Fiscal Court. The fiscal court is the last approval needed; it met this morning.

“The more information we find about (drug users using the exchange) and what we learn from them, they will want to find out what treatment is needed for them,” Blevins said. “I think what happens over time is people see this as a resource and they see it as a means of help.”

Even though the health department hopes an exchange can help people get into treatment, the sad reality is the rising numbers of positive hepatitis C and HIV cases in Boyle County, Blevins said.

Blevins said the Department of Public Health has counted 32 cases of HIV — and the actual number could be higher because those are just the cases that been reported. The number of hepatitis C cases is unknown, but positive cases are seen daily at the health department and the hospital, he said.

Blevins said he thinks once the county obtains an estimate of the number of hepatitis cases, it will be very high number.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Boyle County ranks 35th in the nation for being most at risk for an outbreak of HIV or hepatitis C among injecting drug users. 

In a previous ASAP meeting, ASAP Chairman Paige Lutz, who was once on the fence about needle exchange, said, “A majority of folks that I have already talked to who are IV users said they already have hepatitis C, and if they told me they don’t, they’ve not been tested. It’s huge; the problem is huge.” 

Blevins said those who have hepatitis C or are HIV positive could spend anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 on treatments.

“Either one of those are very expensive and very damaging,” Blevins said.

The exchange is tentatively planned to begin around the start of November. The program would be available on Fridays from 1 to 3 p.m. in the basement of the Boyle County Health Department. 

The program will include a collection of contaminated syringes; dispersal of proper sharps containers for future use by participants; distribution of clean injection materials; referrals for clinic services and screenings; education on overdose prevention; distribution of narcan/naloxone prescriptions (an overdose antidote); and counseling on treatment resources. 

Individuals can receive up to 20 syringes at a first visit, and then after that, they can exchange on a one-to-one basis. 

“I’m excited about the program because there’s a need,” Blevins said.