The Whitley County Health Department recently received a grant for more than $100,000, which will help it improve services to drug users, especially those suffering from Hepatitis C.
In 2018, 575 people were hospitalized or treated in emergency departments in Whitley County for Hepatitis C, according to the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center.
About 75 percent of the participants in the Whitley County Health Department Harm Reduction Clinic (needle exchange program), which has been in place since January 2017, have reported a positive Hepatitis C test.
The $110,586 grant from the HepConnect program will provide 18 months of funding so the health department can begin offering case management services and related assistance to improve the service connections for people who use drugs and their families, increase Hepatitis C treatment completion rates, and reduce barriers to harm reduction activities reported by people who use drugs, the health department noted in a release.
“I am thrilled to be able to add this resource to our tool kit to address the needs in our community. I hope that the more we can help people connect with needed care and services, the more we will see people in recovery, and the lower our hepatitis C and other infection rates will be,’ said Whitley County Health Department Public Health Director Marcy Rein.
Between mid-June and mid-September 2019 alone, the Whitley County Health Department conducted 13 harm reduction clinics with 428 total participants and 58 new participants collecting 11,317 used needles and giving out 11,964 clean needles.
“Those numbers will never be equal because the first time you come to the clinic we don’t make you give needles back. We are always going to give more than we take,” Rein noted.
Out of the more than 120 applications for the HepConnect program, only 44 projects were awarded funding by a committee of regional and national harm reduction experts, including people with lived experience.
The Whitley County Health Department was one of three health departments and one of eight organizations in Kentucky, which were awarded funding.
HepConnect is a regional initiative of Harm Reduction Coalition to mobilize and expand capacity for organizations working with people who use drugs in five states significantly impacted by rising hepatitis C rates: Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and West Virginia.