The Healing Place

Hot Topic: Louisville's Needle Exchange Program

Hot Topic: Louisville's Needle Exchange Program

Louisville is making headlines for implementing Kentucky’s first needle exchange program. I applaud the efforts of the Louisville Metro Department of Health and Wellness to implement a needle exchange program here in Louisville. It is an unfortunate reality that heroin is being frequently used by people in our community and intravenously. The consequences of this fact are far-reaching. The chronic illnesses that accompany the use of dirty needles are so costly and destructive to individuals, employers, and insurance companies. It only makes sense to try to prevent the spread of these chronic illnesses.

Needle exchange programs are not a new or novel idea. Between 1991 and 1997, the U.S. Government funded seven reports on clean needle programs for people who inject drugs. The reports are unanimous in their conclusions that clean needle programs reduce HIV transmission, and none found that clean needle programs caused rates of drug use to increase.

Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in 2004 “The majority of studies have shown that needle exchange programs/syringe exchange programs (NEPs/SEPs) are strongly associated with reductions in the spread of HIV when used as a component of comprehensive approach... In addition to decreasing HIV infected needles in circulation through the physical exchange of syringes, most NEPs/SEPs are part of a comprehensive HIV prevention effort that may include education on risk reduction and referral to drug addiction treatment, job, or other social services. These interventions may be responsible for a significant part of the overall effectiveness of NEPs/SEPs. NEPs/SEPs also provide an opportunity to reach out to populations that are often difficult to engage in treatment."

The needle exchange programs provide the opportunity for education about the disease of addiction and interventions for those who are using. A lot of people still believe that addicts can and should just stop using drugs and alcohol. If it were that easy, folks would just do it. Addiction is a very powerful disease that takes over every facet of one’s life. I talk to addicts every day who say that they had no clue how to get out of the lifestyle and give up their drugs and/or alcohol. If coming to a program to get clean needles puts them in contact with accurate information and resources for treatment, then it seems a valuable option.

Prevention works! It is time to be proactive about prevention activities to try to get in front of these issues that we are facing as a community.

Learn more about Louisville’s needle exchange program.