LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Late this year, Fayette County's needle exchange program broke an attendance record. Staff at the program had 214 people come in to exchange dirty needles for clean ones. On average, the program sees between 165 and 170 people every Friday. One employee of the program has been there since the beginning. He sat down with WKYT's Miranda Combs to talk about misconceptions and reality.
"The first week it was eight or nine people and it grew exponentially from there," he said. The exchange in Fayette County opened about two years ago. "For people who think we're enabling drug use, the research shows that it's really the opposite of that. No one wakes up and says they are going to start doing heroin because the health department is handing out needles."
He said he's known two people that have overdosed and died, and also been regular visitors at the exchange. But he also knows he's saving lives by supplying people with clean ways to administer drugs until they are ready to get sober. "It's not a struggle for us because we know we are saving lives. We are keeping people from sharing needles and we are keeping people from having to re-use needles."
He said the main goal of needle exchanges is to stop the spread of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C." He went on, "Needle exchanges are not a new thing. They've been around for more than 30 years. It's just that here in Kentucky, we are catching up."
More and more Kentucky counties have added the needle exchange program to their local health departments this year. They offer substance abuse treatment for those that are ready, but they don't push anyone. "We've learned to be able to determine how close someone is to being ready and how much we can nudge them without being too agressive, because the rules of our program say we're not going to force you to do anything you do not want to do."