PRESTONSBURG – Thursa Sloan addressed the Floyd County Fiscal Court on Friday and the Prestonsburg City Council on Monday to present the facts regarding the Kentucky Needle Exchange Program. The program is a highly controversial topic among are residents. The goal of the program is to prevent drug users from getting infected with hepatitis C and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) by providing a place where they can obtain clean needles.
Kentucky had the highest rate of acute hepatitis C cases in the nation from 2010-2013, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Hepatitis C can live on a surface outside the body for up to six weeks,” said Sloan. “HIV begins to die as soon as it hits air. This program is not about supplying needles, it is about preventing an outbreak of the contagious disease. The program will consist of participants getting a starting amount of 70 clean needles. Individuals can bring the used needles back to be disposed of properly and obtain new clean needles when they need them.”
Floyd County Judge Executive Ben Hale, is a compassionate supporter of the program.
“We have received reports of finding needles in the parks where children play, in parking lots, and even in government buildings,” said Hale. “This program will help us get rid of these instances where people toss used, possibly infected needles anywhere. This program helps get dirty needles out of circulation where they are a danger to anyone who encounters them.”
Sloan explained that the drugs alone for treating an individual with Hepatitis C cost $86,000. The cost of a widespread epidemic could be devastating to the Kentucky Medicaid program.
In addition to Hepatitis C, the program will also protect individuals against HIV. After nearly 200 HIV cases were diagnosed in one southern Indiana community, the CDC conducted a vulnerability assessment of counties most at risk of rapid HIV spread through people who inject drugs. The CDC based the rankings on the number of drug overdoses, unemployment and opioid sales, among other factors. Floyd County ranked 10th in the nation for a possible HIV outbreak.
“This is not enabling drug abuse, we are hoping to avoid a health crisis,” said Keith Bartley.
Both the Floyd County Fiscal Court and the Prestonsburg City Council passed unanimously to allow the Floyd County Health Department to provide the needle exchange program as a service to the people of Floyd County. Sloan stated that the program could be up and running as early as December 2016 or January 2017 at the latest.
Floyd County officials are being proactive to provide services that are needed to help hopefully advert a national health crisis for the citizens of Eastern Kentucky.
Andrea Saddler is a reporter for The Floyd County Times. She can be reached at (606) 886-8506.