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Why does Bell County need harm reduction?

Questions still surround the needle exchange program or the proper name for the program which is harm reduction. Many ask, why does Bell County need a harm reduction program.

Throughout the years, research has been conducted throughout various health departments and state departments and according to that research, the positive confirmed cases of Hepatitis C virus in Bell County from January 2017 to June 2019 are between 353.4 to 703.9 cases.

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that inflames and damages the liver. The virus progresses slowly and the infected person might not even notice their symptoms. Hepatitis C can go undetected in an infected person for years. The virus might be short term or long term. The short term infection could clear up within six months but according to the University of Kentucky Healthcare research, about 70% of those with Hepatitis suffer from long term chronic infection.

Hepatitis C can cause cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer, and liver failure and it affects nearly 3.2 million people in the United States alone. There are approximately 150 million people chronically infected with Hepatitis C worldwide.

According to studies performed by the Ohio Valley Research Center, a cluster of HIV infections has grown to 71 confirmed cases in Huntington, West Virginia and the research says the primary cause is needle drug use.

The research through the Ohio Valley Research Center say that health officials confirm that a harm reduction program is an effective tool against HIV infection as well as Hepatitis C infections.

Dr. Greg Corby-Lee is the strategist with the University of Kentucky’s Harm Reduction Initiative and says that a community based harm reduction program can be a lifeline for those still using drugs.

“It takes a while for them to build that level of trust up to come in” he said. “That’s their one bridge, where they can be respected, and be given nothing but help to those still using drugs.”

Corby-Lee says that HIV prevention is the primary focus.

“That’s what they were designed for,” he continued. “But there are a lot of other benefits that come with it. Peer counseling and screening for other diseases such as the Hepatitis C virus.”

Prevention and testing for HIV are becoming more widely available in areas such as Bell County but there is a stigma that stalls that outreach, testing, and treatment and those prevention and testing mechanisms are gradually diminishing.

The programs introduced through harm reduction programs can become the focal point for other problems that are associated with addictions and the crisis that surrounds them. Some of those focal points include the litter in the community from the used needles as well as the homelessness, as well as the petty crime.

The National Harm Reduction Coalition says that for every program that closes in a community, 20 more will open up.

In conclusion to this series, Middlesboro News will look at the reduction of other problems that surround this issue and there will be closing interviews with Lee who and Jana Collins who is the Project Director for KADAP Income Reinvestment Program.

For further information on the harm reduction program in Bell County, you can call 606-248-2862 ext. 27 or visit the Bell County Health Department in Middlesboro.