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Mason County Plans Needle Exchange Program

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Terry Prather, The Ledger Independent
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After receiving the go-ahead from Mason County and Maysville City commissions earlier this month, local health officials now begin the work to establish a needle exchange program for IV drug users.

The program, more properly known as a syringe access exchange program, will be operated by the Buffalo Trace Health District, Executive Director Allison Adams said.

The program falls under Kentucky Senate Bill 192, passed during the 2015 General Assembly and designed to address health issues associated with the increase in heroin use in the Commonwealth. The health department board approved the program last fall. Since then, Adams has been working with several organizations to define a process on how the exchange would work.

An internal team of Dr. Ellen Kumler and nurse Denese Fulton are working to establish protocol, policies and procedures, Adams said. A local committee including members from the Mason County Health Coalition and law enforcement will provide feedback, she said.

With about a dozen needle exchange programs now operating in the state, Adams said her agency has information on how those are working in examining how Mason County's program is set up.

The primary goal behind a needle exchange program is to prevent the spread of HIV, sexually transmitted diseases and hepatitis B and C by providing clean needles to IV drug users in exchange for used needles. The exchange is one-for-one, old for new, officials said.

In addition to the new needles, the program will also offer counseling and screenings for HIV, sexually transmitted diseases and Hepatitis C and B. Treatment resources will either be offered locally or through referrals, Adams said.

The needle exchange program will be offered one day a week, on Tuesday afternoons, Adams said.

October has been selected as the start for the program although Adams said she is unsure what to expect. She said she understands it may take a while for drug users to step forward to take part. 

A program in a nearby county was operational for two months before the first person took part, she said. Getting any kind of handle on how many drug users may live in Mason County is extremely difficult because of the many variables involved, she said.

"There is a barrier -- true or not," Adams said, as she explained how some drug users may be reluctant to walk into a public agency and ask to be included in the program.

"Our only hope is that, when we open, we can raise awareness that we can help," she said.

The Ledger Independent is online at: http://www.maysville-online.com