Letter to the Editor

Published 12:10 pm Friday, June 14, 2019

To the Editor:

Bell County needs a Harm Reduction (AKA: needle exchange) Program so that drug addicts can exchange used syringes for new ones.

My first reaction to that statement was that we should not be providing drug addicts with needles; it would only enable their destructive behavior. However, after hearing a presentation by Greg Lee, who is with the Harm Reduction Program sponsored by U. of K. and the Kentucky Pubic Health Department, I’m convinced that such a program would not increase drug use but would help protect the health not just of the drug users, but of all of us.

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When drug addicts cannot get clean needles, they do not stop using drugs; they share dirty needles and consequently, share diseases. The two most worrisome of those are HIV and Hepatitis C, both of which can then be passed on to nonusers.

Shared needles are now a more significant cause of HIV (which can develop into AIDS) than is sexual contact. At present, 220 counties across the nation are considered very vulnerable to HIV. Of those, 54 are in Kentucky with Bell County rated one of the most vulnerable.

In 2016, Bell County had 15 known cases of HIV. However, since many people have the disease for 10 to 15 years before it is diagnosed (years during which it is contagious), the incidence was probably much higher back then and is even higher today. In at least 60 percent of the cases, people do not learn they have HIV until they develop full blown AIDS.

Hepatitis C is another very serious disease that often is not diagnosed until years after one becomes contagious. Shared needles are the source of 60 percent of new Hepatitis C cases.

Mr. Lee said that there are many misconceptions about needle exchanges. Multiple studies have shown they do not increase drug use or crime. In fact, addicts utilizing these programs are five times as likely as other addicts to eventually seek treatment. At the Harm Reduction Centers, addicts are offered HIV and Hepatitis C testing and information about addiction treatment options. Family planning information is also available to address the problem of babies being born addicted.

Mr. Lee admitted that Harm Reduction Programs will not “fix” the drug problem, any more than seat belts will prevent you from having a wreck; however, both will reduce the harm caused.

This is not a financial decision a community has to make since the state and federal government will cover all costs, including those for staffing, training, supplies and even a van if needed.

To set up a Harm Reduction Program, the county health board, the fiscal court and the city where it is to be located must all agree. The Bell County Board of Heath voted in favor of the program in November. All that is needed is for the fiscal court and at least one of our two city councils to “gut it up” and get on board.

Let’s all contact our magistrates and councilmen and urge them to do just that.

Ann Matheny