The Whitley County Health Department has set a Jan. 13 start date for its needle exchange program.
The needle exchange will take place from 2 – 4 p.m. every Friday at the Whitley County Health Department’s main office in Williamsburg, which is located off Penny Lane near Exit 11.
Public Health Director Martha Steele said that those interested in participating would only have to bring themselves for their first time visit.
The health department won’t require a one on one needle exchange for participants during their first few weeks in the program.
Initially, drug addicts are reluctant to bring in needles. Steele said that it takes time to build up trust with participants to where they are willing to bring in used needles to exchange for clean needles. The goal is to eventually get to a one-on-one exchange.
Participants will receive sharps containers to put their used needles inside.
In addition to the needles, health department officials will hand out informational pamphlets on how to prevent diseases.
Steele noted that some drug addicts will use toilet water to mix their drugs, and health department officials will try to educate them to get them to at least use clean water from the back of the tank instead of water from the toilet bowl when doing so.
Planning for the local needle exchange program has been in the works for over nine months.
Steele noted that the catalyst, which prompted the legislation in Kentucky last year to allow health departments to set up needle exchanges, was the town of Austin, Indiana, which had a major outbreak of HIV and Hepatitis C due largely to needle sharing by drug users.
Steele said that statistics show the typical intravenous drug user shoots up on average four times a day, and there are typically five other drug users present. All of them typically share needles.
Whitley County is ranked as the 11th most vulnerable county in Kentucky for a rapid outbreak of HIV or Hepatitis C infections, and is the 14th most vulnerable county in the nation for such an outbreak.
A clean syringe normally costs about 97 cents or less compared to about $85,000 to treat someone with Hepatitis C and $380,000 to treat someone with HIV.
“Needle exchanges are the only thing they have shown that truly decreases Hepatitis. Hepatitis C has become the number one killer in the state,” Steele said.