The Grayson County Health Department announced this week that it will be partnering with the state to offer a free mobile needle exchange unit in December.

The event, held in partnership with the Kentucky Department for Public Health and the Kentucky Pharmacist Association, will serve to educate the community, as well as the health department about harm reduction/needle exchange programs; however, there will be no actual needle exchanges conducted at the mobile unit.

Additionally, Grayson County Public Health Director Mindy Renfrow said the health department will be handing out free Narcan to attendees, as well as training them on how to use it.

Narcan is a nasal spray used to counteract the effects of an opioid overdose, so visitors to the mobile needle exchange unit can also be educated on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of an overdose, according to Renfrow.

"This is huge for our county," she said, adding that the state typically takes the mobile unit to only larger areas, and it often sees family members of drug users attend for the free Narcan.

The health department will also offer free HIV and hepatitis C testing and counseling during the event.

The announcement comes on the heels of the Grayson County Board of Health's vote earlier this summer to implement a local needle exchange program, and, while the response to the decision has been mixed, Renfrow said she hopes the mobile needle exchange unit will serve as a way to educate the public on the positives of the program.

Renfrow said a local harm reduction program is needed because, even though Grayson County's law enforcement does a good job of battling it, drug abuse in Grayson County continues to grow, with 28 drug overdose deaths reported in Grayson County in 2017.

And, as local drug abuse rises, so does Grayson County's vulnerability to an HIV outbreak and exposure to other diseases such has hepatitis, due to needle sharing and unprotected sex. Grayson County also has 20 confirmed cases of hepatitis A, and 17 of those cases are IV drug use-related, Renfrow said.

A needle exchange program seeks to prevent the spread of diseases such as HIV by providing sterilized syringes to drug users, but a common misconception, according to Renfrow, about such a program is that it enables drug users.

Renfrow said the true purpose of the program is to prevent the spread of diseases due to needle sharing, not to enable drug users, and, if approved, the Grayson County Health Department looks to take its program a step further by having a mental health counselor on hand anytime an individual makes use of the program. In addition, the health department will help drug users enter into full in-patient rehabilitation programs when they are ready to do so.

"We have resources here to help them when they're ready to take the step to recovery," said Renfrow.

The Grayson County harm reduction/needle exchange program has two more hurdles to clear, however. Prior to implementation, the program must first be approved by the Leitchfield City Council and Grayson County Fiscal Court.

Renfrow said the health department will present the proposal for the program to the City Council in November, and, if it is approved there, it will be presented to the Fiscal Court sometime after the first of the year.

Furthermore, Renfrow assures that no taxpayer dollars would be spent on a local harm reduction program, as there are numerous state and federal grants available for this purpose.

For more information, contact Renfrow at the Grayson County Health Department at 270-259-3141 or visit the Facebook page "Grayson County Health Department-KY."