The Louisville Metro Syringe Exchange Program will mark its two-year anniversary tomorrow.
Kentucky’s first syringe exchange program began in a mobile unit outside of Public Health and Wellness headquarters at 400 E. Gray St. on June 10, 2015. Since then, the program has been moved into renovated space inside and expanded to include three neighborhood sites. The exchange is open six days a week on Gray Street, and each of the neighborhood sites is open one day per week.
The demand for the Louisville Metro Syringe Exchange Program has far exceeded expectations. Originally budgeted for about 500 participants per year, the program had served 10,639 participants by the end of May 2017 and referred more than 347 to drug treatment. The ratio of syringes distributed versus exchanged remains at less than 2:1.
Additionally, since it began, the Louisville Metro Syringe Exchange Program has:
“From a public health perspective, the greatest benefit of any syringe exchange program is reducing the transmission of HIV, Hepatitis C and other infectious diseases, as well as increasing access to substance abuse treatment,” said Dr. Sarah Moyer, medical director of the Department of Public Health and Wellness. “We are very grateful to our state legislative delegation, to Mayor Greg Fischer and the Metro Council, the Board of Health and to the entire Louisville community for the support they have shown over the past two years.”
The Louisville Metro Syringe Exchange Program was begun primarily to protect the community against a potential outbreak of such blood-borne diseases as HIV and Hepatitis C spread by needle sharing among injection drug users. The neighboring community of Austin, Ind., with a population of about 4,200 and just 35 miles north of Louisville, had seen 181 new HIV cases the prior year and approximately 155 new Hepatitis C cases as a result of needle sharing. In a city the size of Louisville, that would have translated to more than 31,600 new HIV cases and approximately 27,100 new Hepatitis C cases.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, “lifetime treatment cost of a single case of HIV infection is $379, 668; the costs of treating the patients who contracted HIV and Hepatitis C in Scott County (Austin), Indiana over the next decades are expected to approach $90 million.”
In 2015 Kentucky enacted legislation allowing local health departments to operate substance abuse outreach programs, which include syringe exchange programs. The Louisville Metro Council then adopted an ordinance to approve operating a syringe exchange program for the city, and the Louisville Metro Board of Health approved the exchange.
“Addressing the heroin epidemic effectively requires a multidisciplinary approach. Harm reduction interventions like the Louisville Syringe Exchange Program are an important part of that approach,” said Moyer.