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Health Officials Unveil Louisville Needle Exchange

Kentucky's first needle exchange program begins Wednesday.

A day before the program opens, Louisville health officials discussed details of how the exchange will work.

The goal of the program is to stop the spread of blood borne diseases and link people affected with drug addiction to the health care system, said Dr. Sarah Moyer, interim director of the health department.

"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 whom the services of the syringe exchange is intended," Moyer said during a news conference on Tuesday.

The program will operate out of a mobile unit that sits in front of the health department's main office downtown on East Gray Street.

Once inside the mobile unit, participates have a number of services to choose from, including obtaining clean syringes, HIV testing and information about treatment.

Matthew La Rocco, senior substance abuse counselor with the health department, will oversee services at the needle exchange.

He said he's excited to be involved in the effort to address addiction.

"We look at addiction and we look at the change we want people to make—and we need to start with asking, 'What change do you want to make about your drug use?' and a syringe exchange program allows us to ask that question," he said.

La Rocco said most outreach efforts focus on people who are ready to stop their substance abuse, but there is not a lot of outreach for people who are not ready to stop. He said the needle exchange allows health officials to reach that group of people.

One part of the unit is for safe injection supplies. In addition to providing syringes for the intravenous use of heroin, there will also be syringes for people who inject inter muscularly and for transgender people who may inject steroids or hormones. Participants will also be given a sharps container to safely dispose of dirty needles.

The second area focuses on preventing infections. Participants can pick up alcohol swabs, Band-Aids, gauge, condoms and other contraceptives.

The last area is for HIV testing. If someone tests HIV positive, they will be referred to a local HIV clinic for support and treatment options.

"Whether it's injection, whether it's sexual practices or what have you, we're here to provide what they need. And we're also here to make sure they don't have HIV and if they do, make sure they can get treated," La Rocco said.

The syringe program will operate Monday, Friday, and Saturday from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. and Tuesday,Wednesday and Thursday from 3  p.m. until 6 p.m.