Louisville’s first needle exchange opened Wednesday

Louisville Metro’s needle exchange program hopes to curb the spread of infections and diseases such as Hepatitis C and HIV with their new mobile needle exchange unit, which will be open five days a week at the corner of 400 E. Main St.

Clean needles, Hepatitis C and HIV testing, along with resources for drug treatment will be available, free of charge.

“We are not here to force anyone into treatment, we are here to provide them with the services they need and gain their trust, so when they do decide they need treatment we will be here to provide it for them,” said Dr. Sarah Moyer, interim director of Metro Public Health and Wellness.

Moyer said that when drug users are exposed to needle exchange programs they are five times more likely to seek further treatment for their addiction, as seen in a 2005 Center for Disease Control study of Washington D.C.’s needle exchange program, where, also, the number of HIV cases linked to drug use dropped by 80 percent.

According to Diane Hague, director of Seven Counties Jefferson Alcohol and Drug Abuse Center, Hepatitis C is currently a major concern.

“Kentucky is number one in the incidence of Hepatitis C, and needle exchange can do something about that,” said Hauge. “The cost of treatment for one person with Hepatitis C is much more than what Louisville Metro has committed to the needle exchange program.”

Louisville Metro has committed $250,000 to fund the needle exchange program for one year, which is considerably less than Moyer’s original proposal that would have included six permanent exchange sites.

And, as of now, the program only has 15,000 clean needles ready for distribution. Scott County, with a population of 23,972 compared to Louisville’s 253,128, distributed 17,000 needles in the first two months of their exchange program.

But, Moyer said they are working on partnerships with companies like Walgreens to get more clean needles and that they will be looking for volunteers to go out into neighborhoods and raise awareness of the program and hopefully draw users downtown to their one permanent location.

“We expect activity at the syringe exchange to begin slowly, at first, but to pick up momentum with community outreach and as we gain the trust of those who attend the syringe exchange,” said Moyer.

The Louisville Metro Public Health & Wellness needle exchange center will be open Tuesday through Thursday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., and on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.