Is the Whitley County Health Department’s proposed needle exchange a good thing or a bad thing? There were some mixed opinions offered up during a Whitley County UNITE Coalition meeting Monday afternoon to discuss the issue.
Personally, I think that it is a good idea for multiple reasons.
Whitley County Health Department Public Health Director Martha Steele told me of a statistic recently that illustrates the problem pretty well. When someone is shooting up drugs, there are typically five other people at that same location sharing the same needle.
Besides sharing drugs, this also means that they are likely sharing the same diseases, such as Hepatitis C and HIV. An outbreak of either disease in the IV drug community could spread like wildfire in Whitley County, much like an HIV outbreak did in a small Indiana community last year. 180 new cases of HIV were diagnosed over a period of four or five months.
It is estimated it will cost that community about $50 million for treatment.
There are those who will argue that giving drug addicts free needles is going to encourage more people to become IV drug users, which I highly doubt.
No one in their right mind is going to decide to become an IV drug user just because they can get free needles from the health department. The reality is that if you are an IV drug user, then you’ve progressed beyond just swallowing pills, and smoking or snorting drugs, which are all bad enough. IV drug use is the most extreme form of drug abuse around.
If you are injecting drugs, then you have a very severe drug problem that won’t be going away any time soon. It means that one or even two stints in drug rehabilitation may not be enough to help you kick your problem, even if you decide that you want to stop using drugs.
To me the needle exchange program is a public health issue for the whole community and not just IV drug users.
A topic that wasn’t touched on too much during Monday’s meeting is the fact that we already have a massive problem with IV drug users leaving their needles along the side of the road, sidewalks or even in parks in or near Williamsburg.
It is almost a daily occurrence for Williamsburg police to go out and pick up these needles.
It has gotten so bad that almost no schools take part in the annual PRIDE spring clean-ups because they are afraid of students getting stuck by a needle or picking up the remains of a meth lab. I know of police officers, such as Williamsburg Police Chief Wayne Bird, who have gotten stuck disposing of needles left along roadways.
One of the biggest reasons I want to see the needle exchange program implemented is that I don’t want see some three or four-year-old kid getting stuck by a needle while they are outside playing.
Anything we can do to cut down on the risk of that happening is a good thing in my opinion.
While on many levels I don’t like the idea of my tax dollars being spent to buy needles for drug addicts, it is a necessary evil.
It costs less than $1 to supply a drug addict with a clean needle compared to about $85,000 to treat them for Hepatitis C and $380,000 to treat them for HIV.
It’s a pretty simple choice. Spend a few dollars on needles for them now and hopefully we can avoid spending a few thousands dollars on them when they get arrested for their medical treatment while they are in jail.
Now for a few other thoughts before I conclude this column.
• Kudos to Whitley County EMS Director Kelly Harrison and Assistant Director Brandon Woods for their heroic efforts recently to pull a woman from a burning, smoke-filled home. They were the first two emergency responders on the scene, and Woods broke out a window and crawled through it to carry out the victim, who suffered from Down’s Syndrome.
Unfortunately the victim, who already had some pre-existing medical problems, passed away the next day at the University of Kentucky Medical Center.
This doesn’t diminish the efforts of Woods and Harrison though, who at least gave her a fighting chance and kept her from burning up or dying of smoke inhalation inside the home.
I was happy to see that they were recognized during Tuesday night’s Whitley County Fiscal Court meeting.