LFCHD Harm Reduction Program marks 5 years

LFCHD harm reduction program marks 5 years
Published: Aug. 26, 2020 at 12:08 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - It has been five years since the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department launched its first needle exchange program.

In honor of that milestone, the department is hosting a virtual celebration on its Facebook page Wednesday.

“Our number one goal is to support drug users’ health,” said John Moses.

Moses serves as the team leader for the health department’s Harm Reduction Program, which he helped build from the ground up.

“On that first day, we were ready for hundreds, but we had nine people show up and were a little disappointed, but then we were like, ‘oh my gosh, 9 people showed up to a quasi-government agency to say,‘ ‘I’m using drugs and I need clean needles,‘” said Moses.

In addition to needle exchange, the program now offers testing for hepatitis C and HIV, free naloxone kits to reverse the effects of an overdose, and on-site counseling to connect people to rehabilitation and treatment facilities.

Moses says getting to this point, wasn’t easy.

“We had a lot of push back when we first started, both internally and in the community,” said Moses. “People thought we were enabling drug use but data shows that’s not the case. Having a syringe exchange stops the spread of diseases, but it doesn’t lead to any increase in drug use. So, once we crossed that barrier we were able to really get everyone on board and get the community on board as well.”

Sadly, the program is still needed, perhaps now more than ever. Studies show substance abuse is on the rise because of the pandemic.

“Our numbers have jumped dramatically over the last 5 months,” Moses said. “Substance use disorder is only amplified during a time like this with so many people in isolation. We also know of people who have started again who had been in recovery, along with people using more because of the stress of the pandemic.”

Moses attributes the program’s success to the way they treat those that come to them for help.

“Our staff and our participants know that they are going to be treated with dignity,” Moses said. “They know that we are not here to judge them, we’re only here to help get them on a better path.”

The department has collected more than 1.5-million needles since the program first launched back in 2015.

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