Health department receives van and $75,000 for needle exchange program

Clay Horton

Green River District Health Department's new syringe exchange program got a boost from a state grant that provided a customized van and $75,000 to support local harm reduction efforts.

The assistance came from the Kentucky Department for Public Health. GRDHD officials applied for the grant in January and received the mobile unit in May.

The Freightliner Sprinter van contains a small clinic and interviewing area. It will allow GRDHD to expand its needle exchange program to off-site locations, said Clay Horton, public health director.

GRDHD's exchange program, which is titled Green River Exchange, seeks to reduce the transmission of blood-borne pathogens due to needle sharing and improper syringe disposal. Officials in Daviess and Henderson counties have approved the health department's exchange program.

"We plan to use (the van) for the exchange program in the two counties that have approved it," Horton said. "We also hope to utilize (the van) for other outreach efforts in our counties that have not yet approved syringe exchange. Those outreach efforts could include (hepatitis A) vaccinations for high-risk groups and education about overdose prevention."

Horton did not know when the health department might start using the van. That time frame depends on getting a part-time peer support specialist to work with Green River Exchange. In hopes of securing that position, health department officials have been working on a partnership with Audubon Area Community Services and Owensboro Regional Recovery.

GRDHD is also exploring an opportunity with the Kentucky Harm Reduction Initiative, which might place a full-time risk reduction specialist at Green River Exchange, Horton said. That person could provide technical assistance on best practices and help expand the health department's harm reduction program beyond syringe access.

"We want high-risk individuals to be getting screened regularly for infectious diseases, like HIV, hepatitis C and other sexually transmitted diseases," Horton said. "Beyond providing clean syringes, the program is intended to provide education on how to reduce risks and create linkages for clients to needed services related to their medical needs or connecting them with substance use disorder treatment."

Horton said meetings have been going well. He hopes these partnerships yield results by the end of the year -- if not sooner.

The grant from the Kentucky Department for Public Health provided the van and $75,000. That funding will be used for van maintenance over a five-year period and other items needed for the mobile unit, such as a computer, cellular internet, signage, custom graphics and staffing.

The health department opened its needle exchange program in early February. It operates between noon and 4 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays at the Daviess County Community Health Center, 1600 Breckenridge St. However, the clinic routinely serves clients who come at other times and dates.

Horton expects to expand the exchange's hours sometime in the near future.

Between early February and the end of June, Green River Exchange had 88 total visits from 44 unique clients. Six clients requested treatment referrals.

As of July 1, the program had provided 2,206 needles and clients had returned 1,115 for a total return rate of 51%.

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

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