A needle exchange program, designed to combat the spread of blood-borne diseases, will begin taking used needles and distributing clean ones Friday at the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department.
Lexington's health commissioner, Dr. Rice Leach, described the service as "a public health disease-prevention program."
The goal is to "stop the spread of hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV — all of which are transmitted by needles, and all of which are transmitted by casual unprotected sex," he said at a news conference Thursday.
People should bring their used needles in hard containers that a needle can't pierce, such as a detergent bottle, in order to reduce the likelihood of health department staff getting stuck. Once collected, the used needles will be turned over for disposal to the Kentucky Blood Center, Baptist Health Lexington, KentuckyOne Health, and UK Healthcare, who have partnered with the health department.
The program, which is open from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Fridays at 650 Newtown Pike, is anonymous and confidential. Patients will receive an identification card with their first and last initial, gender and year of birth.
Although Leach said "it's not a heroin treatment program," the health department is working with local heroin treatment programs by offering treatment, including "testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases," and providing information to people when they come in to exchange needles.
When asked if there would be a mobile unit to help people who cannot get to the clinic, Leach said that the department doesn't have the money for one right now but "it's an option, and as we get success, I suspect the community will help us find ways to help us expand into other places."
Although this might seem like a new program, Leach said the health department has been providing information about HIV and connecting patients with treatment for years.
"These folks have been coming here for years," he said. "And that's nothing new. The one thing that's new is, 'Give me your needles, I'll give you clean ones.'"
The exchange program came about when Senate Bill 192 was signed into law by Gov. Steve Beshear in March. It allows local health departments to provide clean needles to users in exchange for used ones. The bill was passed as a result of Kentucky's heroin epidemic.
According to the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, there were 1,087 heroin overdose-related deaths in 2014, compared to 1,010 in 2013.