Whitley County Health Department officials say that it will probably be late December or early January before the county’s needle exchange program is up and running.
Martha Steele, public health director at the health department, gave an update on the program during a Nov. 21 Whitley County UNITE Coalition meeting.
Steele said that before the program gets up and running, Whitley County Health Department officials plan to observe how the Fayette County Health Department’s needle exchange operates.
Because that program is in the process of opening up a second needle exchange, Steele said it will be a few more weeks until she and others can go observe the normal workings of Fayette County’s needle exchange program.
“We are really excited about it,” Steele noted.
Steele said that Knox County’s needle exchange program is up to about 30 participants.
Steele said that she and other existing nurses plan to divide up the duties for the needle exchange program, which means that additional staff won’t have to be hired for it reducing the cost of the program.
Steele added that the Whitley County Health Department is applying for an Agency Substance Abuse Policy grant to help fund the needle exchange program.
Originally, $20,000 was set-aside for Whitley, Knox and Bell counties to help fund needle exchange programs, but Bell County has opted not to start one.
Steele said that she thinks the state will let Knox and Whitley counties split the $20,000 evenly.
Steele said that a portion of the money would go towards purchasing Narcan for Whitley County EMS, which reverses the effects of drug overdoses particularly ones related to heroin.
Whitley County EMS Director Kelly Harrison said that her EMT’s are using Narcan on a daily basis to reverse the effects of overdoses.
Because many addicts are using a powerful fentanil or Carfentanil -based heroin, it sometimes takes two or three doses of Narcan to reverse the effects of an overdose, Harrison noted.
Dawn Lang, a coordinator with Operation UNITE, noted that Carfentanil is a powerful elephant tranquilizer that is so deadly it can kill someone merely by touching it, and that most heroin addicts purchase now contain only 10 percent heroin and the rest of is made from Carfentanil.