Blevins discusses public health and substance abuse

Published 9:17 am Wednesday, November 1, 2017


Danville Rotary

Brent Blevins, Director of Boyle County Health Department, updated Danville Rotary on Oct. 20 about the department’s efforts to protect the public’s health and gain control of substance abuse. Blevins holds a BA form the University of South Florida and an MA from the University of Louisville.  He has held his current position for five years.  Before that he served as Director of Advancement of the Sunrise Children’s Services for fifteen years.

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Blevins said the health department reports health scores for local restaurants quarterly.

“Pay attention to those scores, in particular, pay attention when we put a score with writing underneath it. Sometimes that score reflects something that is easily fixed…those things happen.  What you need to pay attention to is restaurants that appear with low score routinely.  People tend to think, ‘it can only make me a little sick.’ Let me tell you — HIV and Hepatitis C are not something that makes you a little sick. From a public health perspective, restaurants are where a lot of us go frequently and where the spread of disease can start.  We must take care of our environment, particularly places that can expose a lot of people to deadly diseases.”

“Take a look at what is happening in California right now.  There are counties that, because of the spread of Hepatitis C, are actually wiping down their street with bleach to help stop the spread.  Can you imagine the reaction here in Danville/Boyle County if the government came in with large trucks and started wiping down the streets with bleach? It’s not conceivable to most of us, but with a disease like Hepatitis, which can spread by contact alone, it could become necessary. Even here in Danville it could happen.

“… We have two environment staff that go out every day to inspect restaurants, places of business, septic systems and other potential source of contamination. Why is this important?  Think about this: We get our water from Harrington Lake. With the pipeline issue, a lot of us are thinking about the potential future threat of water pollution. But it can happen right now, through virally infected water draining into the lake. If the lake water became sufficiently contaminated that it was not be safe to drink, where would the 28,000 people in Boyle County get drinking water? Now include most of the people in the surrounding counties. Then add the water needed to grow food and fed the livestock. Herrington Lake concerns me on a daily basis, because of its tremendous potential risk.”

Blevins also discussed the Boyle County needle exchange program that began on Jan. 17.

“If you are using heroin or any other drug that can be melted down and loaded into a syringe, and you bring a needle into us, we will exchange it for a new, clean needle. Now, the No. 1 response I get from people in regard to this program is, ‘why would you give needles to someone using drugs? You are just enabling the user.’

“I totally get the point of that argument. In fact, it took me a lot of discussions and about a year to get past that viewpoint myself. I lost my Dad and my brother to chronic drug use. Through those experiences and the discussions with advocates of the clean needle program, I changed my viewpoint. I realized that I can’t make a drug user stop, but maybe I can stop them spreading HIV and Hepatitis C.

“Since we been in the program for nine months, I have learned that once the user starts to trust us, we get a few minutes of face-time every time he comes to exchange needles. We use that facetime to increase his awareness of the various treatment paths that are available to him.  Hopefully, over time, some of the users will decide to reach out for help and change their lives.”

“Here are a couple of things we have learned through this exchange program that the public needs to know: One — used and likely contaminated needles are often discarded where they can stick unaware bypassers. Two — users use any available metal container to melt the drugs before loading them into a syringe. That container is then shared with other users. Any infected user in that process can pass the disease onto others. That is why we have begun giving exchange participants a disposable container too.”