(LOUISVILLE, Ky – April 11, 2017) Kentuckians who are familiar with needle exchange programs are more likely to favor them, according to the latest Kentucky Health Issues Poll (KHIP), released today. Fifty-six percent of Kentucky adults are familiar with needle exchange programs, also known as syringe exchange programs. Forty-nine percent favor the programs, while 43 percent oppose them and 8 percent say they aren’t sure.

KHIP is an annual poll of Kentucky adults about health issues and is funded jointly by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and Interact for Health.

“Research tells us that needle exchange programs can help cut down on the spread of HIV and hepatitis C,” said Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky President and CEO Ben Chandler. “Research also indicates that these programs do not increase drug use. Kentucky is facing a substance use crisis. The legislature authorized needle exchanges in 2015, and now nearly two dozen communities are using them to combat the public health issues that accompany opioid and heroin addiction.”

Income levels didn’t affect opinions about needle exchanges, but age did: adults older than 64 were less likely to approve of them.

The Jessamine County Health Department created a Syringe Exchange Program (SEP) in April 2016. Since then, the SEP has served 114 clients with 347 encounters, according to Randy Gooch, Foundation Community Advisory Committee Member and director of the Jessamine County Health department. They have given out 11,361 syringes and have had 8,083 returned. The department has tested 20 percent of its clients and discovered that 30 percent of those tested positive for hepatitis C.

“While the public health success of our SEP program will be measured by reduction of infectious disease transmission over time, we also have expectations that success will be realized by the number of individuals who receive counseling and treatment services due to the positive contact we have with them,” said Gooch. “Our greatest success to date has been realized with our first participant, a 34-year-old female who came seven weeks straight to our program and returned on the eighth week to turn in her syringes and inform us she was checking into rehab. After four weeks of rehab, she was placed on medication-assisted treatment and often comes by to visit and say she is doing well.”

Gooch credits much of the success of the Jessamine County program to the Accredited Safe Communities America Coalition, a program of the National Safety Council. The health department was awarded accreditation in February 2016, with one of the focus areas being drug overdose.

“The partnerships developed and strategic planning accomplished through this process had our coalition ready to educate and advocate for this public health initiative. Even though this was a controversial issue with law enforcement, we had their support because our previous work had established trust with our agencies and a knowledge and understanding of how public health could impact safety in our community,” said Gooch. “The drug epidemic will only be controlled through a multi-prong approach of education, legislation, prevention, intervention, treatment, faith and other community components. I’m extremely proud of our community for being proactive in these areas as a ‘Safe Community.’”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified 54 Kentucky counties as vulnerable to rapid dissemination of HIV and hepatitis C infection because of intravenous drug use (see highlighted counties in map to the right; click here to learn more). The Foundation’s annual Howard L. Bost Memorial Health Policy Forum, scheduled for Sept. 25, 2017, in Lexington, will focus on Kentucky’s substance use crisis and the solutions and strategies communities and the state can employ to counteract it. Watch this page for more information on the forum.

A copy of the KHIP poll is available here.

About the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky
Since the Foundation opened its doors in 2001, it has invested nearly $26.7 million in health policy research and advocacy, as well as demonstration project grants across the Commonwealth. Funded by an endowment, the mission of the nonpartisan Foundation is to address the unmet health care needs of Kentuckians by developing and influencing health policy, improving access to care, reducing health risks and disparities, and promoting health equity. Follow the Foundation on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and visit our website at www.healthy-ky.org

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Media Contacts:
Bonnie J. Hackbarth
502-326-2583 (office)
502-552-3770 (mobile)
bhackbarth@healthy-ky.org 

or

Angela Koch
502-326-2583 (office)
502-759-2171 (mobile)
akoch@healthy-ky.org