On Tuesday, the Berea City Council voted unanimously to support a resolution for a proposed syringe exchange program in Madison County. One reason may be that the epidemic of heroin and intravenous drug abuse is hitting closer to home. Councilman Jim Davis drove home the point by displaying a bag containing two used syringes he found near his property. After the meeting, the needles were collected and safely discarded by Berea Police Chief David Gregory.
Summary of reasons for supporting the syringe exchange program as outlined in the Berea City Council resolution:
- Kentucky is suffering from an epidemic of heroin abuse, resulting in drug overdoses, untimely deaths, excessive emergency room visits and hospitalizations due to heroin and other drug use, babies born to women with drug addiction, and associated criminal activity in Madison County.
- Needles, syringes, and other equipment used for injecting drugs can become contaminated with blood that contains Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B, and HIV, which can be transmitted when needles and syringes are shared.
- Contaminated needles put the public and first responders at risk for exposure through accidental needle sticks when such contaminated equipment is improperly discarded.
- The cost of the medications for one course of treatment for Hepatitis C is approximately $89,000.
- The cost of treating HIV infection, a lifelong chronic disease, is nearly $400,000;
- The Indiana State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) experienced a large outbreak of HIV infections in 2015 among over 200 persons who injected drugs in Scott County, Indiana.
- The Madison County Health Department is mandated to detect, prevent, and control communicable diseases such as Hepatitis C and B and HIV with policies like implementation of a Syringe Exchange Program (SEP).
- SEPs have been operated in the United States since the 1980s, with over 200 programs operating in 32 states, DC, Puerto Rico, and Indian nations, and at least 18 SEPs operating in the state of Kentucky.
- Researchers at the National Institutes of Health, the General Accounting Office, the CDC, and the National Academy of Sciences concur that SEPs are an effective public health approach to reducing HIV and viral hepatitis infection.
- SEPs have been supported by many health and governmental organizations including the CDC, the American Medical Association , the American Public Health Association, the American Pharmaceutical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Bar Association, and the US Conference of Mayors.
- Research has also shown SEPs protect public safety and safeguard law enforcement officials by taking contaminated syringes off the streets and out of parking lots, parks, school grounds and playgrounds.
- SEPs are an important link to mental health and addiction treatment services, and serve as an entry point for other health care services, such as testing for HIV, HCV, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases, vaccinations, overdose prevention kits, and education and counseling. SEPS are also a cost-effective strategy compared to the cost of treating HIV and Hepatitis C.
- SEPs have not been shown to encourage individuals to begin using drugs, nor increase drug use among existing users, nor do they increase crime in neighborhoods in which such programs are operated.
With the Richmond City Commission having recently passed a measure supporting the establishment of an SEP, the issue will now be considered for action by the Madison County Fiscal Court.