Matt Lasley | GC News-Gazette The Grayson County Health Department has released new information and statistics regarding a local needle exchange program.

Matt Lasley | GC News-Gazette

The Grayson County Health Department has released new information and statistics regarding a local needle exchange program.

The Grayson County Board of Health is looking to implement a Harm Reduction Program, otherwise known as a needle exchange program, locally.

A needle exchange program seeks to provide drug users with an option to help minimise their risks from continuing to use drugs and harming themselves or others by allowing them to obtain hypodermic needles and associated paraphernalia from healthcare professionals at little or no cost.

According to Grayson County Public Health Director Mindy Renfrow, rather than to seek to enable drug users, a needle exchange program seeks to improve public health by decreasing the number of contaminated needles on the streets, thereby lowering the risk of HIV, hepatitis and other diseases.

The Grayson County Health Department reports that Grayson County's HIV rates have had a "rapid increase" since 2014 and have doubled since eight cases were reported in 2016. Hepatitis C rates also doubled from 2015 to 2016 from 8,000 to 16,000 in the state of Kentucky.

Renfrow said that in Kentucky counties with needle exchange programs, drug abuse has decreased, fewer needles are found on the streets, law enforcement exposure through accidental needle sticks is decreased, and HIV and hepatitis exposure has declined.

Though establishing a local exchange program has been approved by the Grayson County Board of Health, it must also be approved by the Leitchfield City Council and Grayson County Fiscal Court before it can be officially implemented.

To participate, a patient would either call the Grayson County Health Department or go in voluntarily at a designated time. The visit would be confidential, but the patient would be given an ID number, as well as be asked to provide basic information on the first visit.

The patient would then be counseled about HIV and hepatitis and other diseases, as well as be offered free testing.

Renfrow said the health department would then assess how many needles the patient would need based on how many times he or she uses. The department would provide the patients with sharps containers and tell them how to safely dispose of the needles in those containers.

The patients would be asked to return the disposed sharps to the health department the next time they come in, according to Renfrow.

Additionally, the health department would partner with Communicare to have someone readily available to offer counseling and drug treatment options for patients when ready, as well as provide free condoms to patients.

The health department would assess other needs such as housing, family planning and food, and find resources for them appropriately, according to Renfrow.

In response to the concern that drug users participating in the program do not want help, Renfrow said she feels the opposite is true because participants are voluntarily meeting face-to-face with nurses and mental health counselors about their drug use and being offered methods of treating it.

The program would be funded by a federal mental health grant, which is why the program could not be used to provide diabetics with free needles because it is an acute care disease, not one that can be prevented from being spread to others, Renfrow said.

In a statement, Renfrow said, "Opioid addiction and drug abuse is a problem within Grayson County. We are one of the top counties in Kentucky that (is) at risk for and vulnerable for an outbreak. We have the best first line law enforcement that works so hard to decrease the drug use in our community, including KSP, our local sheriff's department and Leitchfield PD. We want to help on the public health standpoint to help decrease our HIV and hepatitis cases, which are significantly on the rise, as well as offer help to this population. I don't think anyone woke up one morning and said, 'I think I'm going to be a drug addict today.' It happens to the best people and doesn't discriminate young or old, rich or poor, black or white. "