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Louisville Health Department Offers Progress Report on Needle Exchange

needle

The Louisville Department of Public Health and Wellness met with the Metro Council's Intergovernmental Affairs Committee on Thursday to provide an update on the needle exchange program.

This month, the health department will expand its community exchange sites. Users can exchange needles, receive counseling and get tested for HIV and Hepatitis C at Redeemer Lutheran Church on River Park Drive every Tuesday between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

As of Nov. 21, 1,329 individuals have visited the needle exchange program. That's up from around 800 in October.

Of those, 43 percent are returning participants and 70 percent return on a weekly basis. So far, 156 people have been tested for HIV and 86 have been tested for Hepatitis C. There have been 52 positive tests for Hepatitis C and zero for HIV, officials said.

Nearly 90 people have been referred to drug treatment.

During the meeting, council members asked myriad questions related to treatment, disposal of dirty needles and cost of the program.

Matt LaRocco, senior substance abuse counselor for the health department, said the agency is researching installing disposal kiosks throughout the city. He said some people frequent public restrooms that have sharps containers — used for needle disposal — in order to throw away their used needles.

"There are certainly a lot of discussions to be had, and I think when we look at treatment referrals and working within the system, when we look at needle return rates, both of these things are really complex issues that require multiple levels of partnerships with multiple players," he said.

Councilman David Yates, noting the limited space at treatment facilities in Louisville, asked if the health department had any record of whether any participants had sought out treatment. LaRocco said there's no way to know because the program is anonymous. He said the health department is working with the Jefferson Alcohol and Drug Abuse Center to create a program to track how many needle exchange participants have entered treatment.

But people need the right kind of treatment to stop using drugs, LaRocco said.

"Somebody who's been using opiods long-term, for instance, needs more than  seven days in a treatment program," he said. "They need six months or they need a year."

LaRocco told the committee treatment options in Louisville are limited for people who need dual treatment for substance abuse and a mental health disorder.

"I had a 10- or 15-minute conversation with a young lady. What she really needed was psychiatric care, paired with medication-assisted treatment, paired with long term residential treatment," he said. "That's not even available ... A lot of our people need treatment, and the treatment that we have is good treatment but it's not adequate for their specific needs."