Graves County’s health department is staying the course with its needle exchange program while taking extra precautions to protect staff and clients from the coronavirus.
Agency for Substance Abuse Policy/Prevention program coordinator Lauren Carr said the Graves County Health Department is practicing social distancing and only allowing one exchange client inside at a time. The area they operate is constantly cleaned and sanitized, including doorknobs.
To speed up the process, they are also preparing exchange bags in advance.
While there hasn’t been an increase in the amount of clients per day, Carr said there’s been an influx of people rendered jobless, so department staff is providing small food bags with items like granola bars and apples.
In addition, if a client says they are homeless then staff will include hygiene kits. A clothing bank is also available.
The program is designed to prevent the spread of certain diseases and to keep used needles off streets. Clients on their first visit, Carr said, are provided with 40 needles along with supplies, including a cylindrical container for used needles. Once clients deplete their supply, they can return the container to be disposed of and exchange it for new sterile needles.
“I don’t want anyone to have to reuse a syringe or share,” she said. “That’s the whole point.”
Prospective clients don’t need to bring in used needles on their first one to two visits; however, she said that afterwards the needles would be exchanged one for one. The amount of their used needles they return is the amount of sterile ones they receive.
While clients would walk away with something regardless of how many needles they bring back, she added, staff takes note of how many needles each person returns and adjusts the amount provided accordingly on a case-by-case basis.
According to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services site (chfs.ky.gov), by encouraging intravenous drug users to take advantage of these services and not sharing needles, it will help reduce the transmission of diseases like HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B and C.
The program has a variety of other benefits to give clients the choice for recovery and rehabilitation. Carr said they provide or refer clients to necessary avenues of treatment as needed
“Working this program made me really open my eyes,” she said. “They’re not bad people.”
Health educator Corinne Rudd, who fills in at the health department, echoed Carr’s statement. “They’re people, they never intended for this to happen,” she said.
The NEP takes place every Wednesday from 8 a.m.- 3 p.m., but Carr said that if necessary, they would adjust accordingly.