Health & Medicine

Preliminary plan unveiled for needle exchange program through Lexington health department

Dr. Rice Leach said a needle-exchange program would benefit the public, not just drug users. It will help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
Dr. Rice Leach said a needle-exchange program would benefit the public, not just drug users. It will help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Herald-Leader File Photo

Intravenous drug users would obtain clean needles only at the health department building at 605 Newtown Pike, according to a preliminary plan for a needle-exchange program released Wednesday by the Lexington-Fayette County Board of Health.

The preliminary plan is being reviewed by interested groups such as law enforcement, treatment centers and city officials, said Dr. Rice Leach, the health commissioner. There will be a June 19 meeting for those parties to discuss the program.

The plan then will go before the Urban County Council this summer and, if approved, be put into action.

The needle-exchange program is aimed at stemming growing rates of hepatitis and HIV in Fayette County.

Under the preliminary plan, intravenous drug users would be directed to enter the health department through a door at the back of the building to protect privacy. There, clients would meet with health department outreach specialists. Clients would be assigned a number as an identifier and would be able to receive needles anonymously. A name would be needed if there is a request for a blood draw to test for HIV or a sexually transmitted infection.

The clients will be provided syringes, a semi-sealed container for sharp objects and a bleach kit, condoms and educational materials. They also can be referred to a public health clinic to discuss options for drug treatment, family planning, testing and disease prevention.

The preliminary plan does not include street outreach, said Leach. But, he said, that might be considered later.

A law passed by the state legislature in March allows Kentucky health departments and local governments to create needle-exchange programs. The health departments in Louisville, Northern Kentucky and Scott County also are working on plans.

Rates of hepatitis B and C and HIV have climbed dramatically during the past three years as heroin use has skyrocketed in Lexington and across Kentucky.

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