Louisville Syringe Exchange Program to Open Tomorrow

June 9, 2015

Louisville’s Syringe Exchange Program will open tomorrow in a mobile unit adjacent Public Health and Wellness headquarters at 400 E. Gray St.  A licensed substance abuse counselor from Public Health and Wellness will provide staffing for the site.  Volunteers of America of Kentucky will provide outreach.

Preliminary operating hours are Monday, Friday, and Saturday from 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 3:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m.  These are flexible times and may change depending on the needs of participants.

“The Syringe Exchange Program will help to prevent the spread of blood borne diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C in our community,” said interim Public Health and Wellness director Dr. Sarah Moyer.  “It will also lead participants to testing and treatment.  I want to thank the Mayor Fischer, the Metro Council, the Board of Health, and all the community partners who have been so supportive.”

“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 for whom the services of the syringe exchange are intended,” she added.

The exchange will provide free syringes, HIV testing and prevention supplies, as well as education regarding hepatitis C transmission, sexually transmitted diseases, wound care, and proper syringe disposal.  Referrals will be made for those who test positive for HIV or hepatitis C as well as for those seeking drug treatment, and other health and social services. 

The Seven Counties Services, Inc., Jefferson Alcohol and Drug Abuse Center (JADAC) will assign an addictions treatment case manager to the syringe exchange program whose responsibility is to inform participants and make treatment referrals. The case manager will be available to syringe exchange staff and participants 30 hours per week and some evenings. 

Louisville is the first city in Kentucky to open a syringe exchange.  The 2015 Kentucky legislature enacted legislation allowing local health departments to operate substance abuse outreach programs which include syringe exchange programs.  The Louisville Metro Council adopted an ordinance to set a syringe exchange program for the city and the Louisville Metro Board of Health approved the exchange in May.

The goal of the Louisville Metro Syringe Exchange program is to reduce the transmission of blood-borne diseases including HIV and hepatitis C among persons who inject drugs, among their sexual partners and their newborn children.

Public health bodies ranging from the American Medical Association to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to several U.S. surgeon generals have all endorsed syringe exchanges.   A 2005 study found that HIV rates decreased by nearly 6% in cities that had syringe exchange programs compared to a national increase of nearly 6% per year.  The number of HIV cases linked to intravenous drug use dropped by 80 percent in Washington D.C. from 2007 to 2011, with the number of cases decreasing from 149 to 30.

Syringe exchanges help to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, not just among IV drug users, but throughout much of the rest of the population, particularly among women and newborns.  Many women who do not use drugs are at risk for HIV and hepatitis C because of they are sexual partners of injection drug users.  These women may then pass these diseases to their children. 

Syringe exchange programs bring drug addicted individuals in contact with the health system where can they be tested for HIV and hepatitis and, if positive, be treated.  Syringe exchange programs can make drug treatment options known to addicted individuals using the syringe exchange.  Studies show that program participants were five times more likely to enter drug treatment than IV drug users who did not participate in syringe exchange programs.