Needle exchange discussions gaining attention

Published 11:56 am Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Several discussions have taken place throughout the community surrounding a needle exchange program being implemented in Bell County.

Just last week at the roundtable forum hosted by the Bell County League of Women Voters, the topic was brought up by community members on the impact the program could have right here in Bell County.

“There was an opinion that if you do a needle exchange it increases drug use, but I’ve not seen any evidence that happens unless you give drugs with the needles,” community member Angela Jackson stated to Middlesboro Mayor Rick Nelson, Pineville Mayor Scott Madon, and Bell County Jailer Gary Ferguson. “I know there are pros and cons, but I would like to see it brought here.”

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There is a similar exchange currently taking place in surrounding counties including Whitley.

Whitley County Health Department officials are hoping that the mobile harm reduction unit will result in more drug addicts taking advantage of free needle exchange programs in order to keep them from contracting and spreading various diseases. They are also hoping to keep more used hypodermic needles off the streets, roads, sidewalks and parks.

A full proposal to introduce a needle exchange program in Bell County will need to be prepared, and that proposal will need to be presented before Bell County Judge-Executive Albey Brock.

Since Whitley County’s needle exchange program started in January 2017, 630 people have participated making a total of 3,264 visits to the health department. During that time frame, 77,785 used hypodermic needles have been turned into the health department and been disposed of properly.

The health department has also given out 90,481 clean needles.

Whitley County Health Department Interim Public Health Director Tamara Phelps explained to the Whitley County Board of Health, “Of course when they come in for their needles, they are counseled on Hep A, B and C. We offer Hep C and HIV testing. Very few take us up on that, but we are offering. They can actually get a little incentive, a $5 Walmart card to get tested, but they don’t have time. We try. We keep going.”

According to Jackson, who is working to get the needle exchange program introduced into Bell County, two of the three government entities would need to be on board with the program.

“Bell County has to be on board as well,” she explained. “To my understanding, there has to be two out of three government entities involved, but if we can’t get assurances of Bell County and can’t get them on board, there’s no use.”

More information on a needle exchange program is expected to be presented at the next forum hosted by the Bell County League of Women Voters. The roundtable forums are another way for the community to open up discussions about moving forward in a positive direction when it comes to fighting the drug problems in Bell County.

Newspaper community calendar reminders are expected to be sent out on when the next meeting will take place. The meeting is open and the community is encouraged to attend.