Louisville begins syringe drop & swap program

Metro Louisville begins one-stop syringe drop and swap
New syringes that will be issued as part of the needle exchange program. (Source: Rick Miller, WAVE 3 News)
New syringes that will be issued as part of the needle exchange program. (Source: Rick Miller, WAVE 3 News)

. - LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - If nearby Austin, Indiana is the 21st Century AIDS virus nightmare, the Metro Department of Health and Wellness sees Kentucky's first needle-syringe exchange to awakening the Commonwealth from its slumber.

"Because we have a drug epidemic," said Councilman David Yates (D-District 25), chair of Louisville Metro Council's Public Safety Committee.

"If Austin has 160 HIV cases in seven months, a proportionate increase in Metro Louisville would result in more than 28,000 new HIV cases here," said Dr. Sarah Moyer, interim director of Metro Health and Wellness.

Council members and care providers concede they can't even guesstimate the scope of addiction, much less how many they'll reach through a one-stop syringe drop-and-swap that will operate out of a mobile unit parked at the health department's offices at 400 E. Gray Street.

"The mobile unit is self-contained, but it's mechanically unsound to put on the road," Dr. Moyer said. "We needed to start the program quickly."

Beginning June 10, a licensed substance abuse counselor will staff the vehicle on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

"They won't have to trade syringe-for-syringe," said Moyer. "We'll give them what they say they need. Our supply will begin with 15,000 syringes."

As in Austin, users won't have to reveal their names. They'll be assigned case numbers for tracking. Swab-testing for HIV and blood tests for Hepatitis C will be strictly voluntary, but encouraged strongly.

"Syringe exchange programs do not encourage drug use-among the participants," said Sherry Babbage, the Metro Board of Health chair.

"It provides people with the information they need, if they're continuing to be addicted," said Chief Steve Conrad of the Louisville Metro Police Department. "To be safer."

The program will urge users to avail themselves of treatment and rehabilitation programs offered through the Volunteers of America and the Jefferson Alcohol and Drug Abuse Center (JADAC).

"We'll concentrate on outreach areas away from the downtown district," VOA spokeswoman Tandee Ogburn said. "Folks who can't easily get to the mobile unit here."

"Most of these people will not have insurance," Metro Council member Vicki Aubrey Welch (D-District 13) said. "When they do come to the health care centers it's our tax dollars that's gonna be paying for their care."

"The cost of treatment for Hepatitis C for one person is much more than what Louisville Metro has committed to the needle exchange program," JADAC director Diane Hague told a news conference.

Moyer said medicine and treatments for HIV and AIDS can run $500,000 per patient. Hepatitis C regimens can total $15,000 a year for life. After the 2015 Kentucky General Assembly authorized such needle exchanges, the Metro Council allotted $250,000 for its first year.

"We're applying for grants, but we have no guarantees past this first year," Moyer said. "The numbers will have to show that this is worthwhile, and that it's making a difference."

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