BROOKSVILLE — A resolution supporting a needle exchange program passed through the Bracken County Fiscal Court on Wednesday, although it will still need to be brought before the Brooksville City Council.
Tony Cox, director of the Bracken County Health Department, spoke on the importance of such a program in the county.
Cox said there is a drug use issue within Bracken County. With that, comes issues with the spreading of diseases, such as HIV, hepatitis C and others.
“This discussion was something that I hoped a few years I would never have to come to this body and have with you,” he said. “It’s only because there are some issues that have come up in our community. The issues — we have an addiction issue within our community. Part of the issue is not just with the addiction, but the connection of disease that goes along with the addiction.”
Cox said there were four cases of hepatitis C in 2010. In 2014, there were 14 and in 2019, there were 32 cases.
“We also have hepatitis B and HIV,” he said. “I just had someone say there was no way that would be in Bracken County and that is simply not true.”
Cox said drug users account for about 16 percent of the new HIV injections and about 48 percent of the new hepatitis C cases. There is also no vaccine for either disease.
“We can test it, but hopefully we can get people to a place where they will stop doing it,” he said. “The syringe exchange programs are there to reduce the likelihood of the transfer of blood borne diseases by providing sterile injection equipment to these users to try to reduce the potential for the sharing of disease.”
Cox said used needles become contaminated with blood that contains those diseases. He also said it puts the public and emergency officials at risk due to accidental sticks from discarded needles thrown on the ground or in other places. A syringe exchange program could help reduce that spread.
According to Cox, the program would be a one-to-one program. The person would come in, be assessed and would receive a new needle for each old one they turn in. The maximum amount of needles the person is allowed to take would vary depending on the person.
When the person comes in to the health department, they would also be given information on treatment options, receive education on safe injections and receive disease screenings during every visit in addition to the needles. He also said there will also be treatment options set up through other contacts.
“Syringe access saves lives and is cost effective,” he said. “There will be a counselor or a mental health trained nurse anytime a person comes in. When they do come in to this exchange, we are going to provide a way to encourage them to get treatment for the addiction recovery they need, but we have to get in front of them. We have to have a way to get to this population.”
Magistrate Craig Miller asked about the cost.
According to Cox, the cost could be between $28,000 and $30,000 per year. There are grants available, but the health department cannot seek out anything until they have a program.
Magistrate Carl Allen express concerns that such a program could be perceived as promoting drug use.
A person who is using drugs will use them regardless of the needle being used or clean, Cox said.
“People who inject drugs are going to inject drugs,” he said.
Magistrate Scotty Lippert asked if someone entered the health department and asked for a needle, but turned down treatment options, would they be turned away.
Cox said the person would not be turned down. They would still receive the needle.
“We’re trying to stop the spread of disease,” he said. “And, this is to provide the chance to get in front of them. Everybody is not going to go to counseling and that’s the sad reality of it, but that’s the objective of what we are trying to do.”
Buffalo Trace Health Department Director Allison Adams was also present at the meeting to discuss how well the program has worked in Mason County.
In the three years the program has been operational in Mason County, there have been 41,000 needles handed out. According to Adams, the health department is at a 102 percent return rate.
“The benchmark is 80 percent, so we are well above that benchmark,” she said. “It takes a while, even if you pass this today, it takes a while for it to get going. It also takes a while for the community to be trusting.”
The magistrates approved the resolution to allow the program, with Allen and Magistrate Doug Smith voting no.
The resolution will still have to pass the Brooksville City Council before it can begin because the health department is located in the city.
During the meeting, Bracken County Judge-Executive Tina Teegarden also told magistrates that a suggestion to provide financial help to those living on Kentucky 19 to hook onto the upcoming wastewater treatment plant is not legally allowed.
However, there are options for assistance through a rural development grant and/or loan.
“There can be no assistance from the county for private residency,” she said. “Buffalo Trace said rural development does have help for people involved in projects like this. There is a grant that they would not have to pay back. Or, depending on their income, they could get a loan with very little interest.”
Teegarden said she is going to look into the information and get applications so residents can pick them up.
“They would have to send in financial information, so it would be just like going to the bank for a loan,” she said.