Editor of Kentucky Health News, Clinton native Al Cross, weighs in on syringe exchange program

Posted April 4, 2018 at 9:03 am

by Al Cross

HIV and hep C risk map numbered.psd

Kentucky counties national rankings as most vunerable to HIV and Hepatitus C outbreaks

Editor and publisher

Kentucky Health News

The people of Clinton County have not heard the whole story about the issue of the county’s participation in the syringe exchange that is operated in several other counties by the Lake Cumberland District Health Department.

Perhaps the most important missing piece of information is this: Scientific research has shown that syringe exchanges do not promote drug abuse. It’s easy to believe otherwise, but sometimes what we think is “common sense” doesn’t have all the facts at hand. The director of the state Office of Drug Control Policy, Van Ingram, is a former police chief who first opposed such exchanges. But once he heard the evidence from the experts, he changed his mind.

Another piece of missing information is that experience with the exchanges shows that people who participate in them are five times more likely to get treatment for their addiction. The exchange offers the health department an opportunity to attract drug users into treatment. Clinton County needs this; it has one of the highest drug-overdose rates in the country.

In the past few years, officials at all levels of government have come to realize that the opioid epidemic is a health problem that requires treatment, not just a criminal problem that requires prosecution. Sheriff Jim Guffey looks at the issue as a law-enforcement officer, as he should. But this is a public-health problem, too, and there’s a risk of another kind of epidemic.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists Clinton County as one of 220 counties in the United States that are most at risk of an outbreak of hepatitis C or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, from intravenous drug use. In fact, the CDC considers the county the 11th most at risk in the whole country! (That’s the last big piece of missing information.)

There was such an outbreak in Scott County, Indiana, a few years ago. Then-Gov. Mike Pence issued an emergency regulation allowing the county to have a syringe exchange, and the problem subsided. Soon afterward the Kentucky legislature passed a law allowing exchanges with local approval.

In addition to these risks, there is also the risk posed by dirty needles. Let us pray that no child in Clinton County gets a serious disease from one. But let us also take what steps we can to reduce such risks, and act on the basis of the facts. That is my wish, as a native and taxpayer of Clinton County.