Joe M. Lee

Joe M. Lee

By Joe M. Lee, MD, FAAP

Medical Director, Grayson County Board of Health

Dear Fellow Citizens of Grayson County,

Last Tuesday on Jan. 15, the Grayson County Fiscal Court failed to vote on the Harm Reduction/Needle Exchange Program that has been passed by the Leitchfield City Council, the Grayson County Board of Health, the Twin Lakes Regional Medical Center Board of Directors, and the Medical Executive Committee of the medical staff. Part of the magistrates’ concern was that the people they represent don’t understand the program and were generally opposed to it. I have been on the Board of Health since 1976 and have been providing pediatric care for the children of Grayson County since 1976. I am strongly FOR the Harm Reduction/Needle Exchange Program.

In the nation, including Kentucky and Grayson County, there is an epidemic of drug abuse, increased opioid use (especially heroin) and deaths from drug overdose. In 2017, Grayson County had 27 deaths from drug overdoses (that is more than one death every two weeks). There is a huge increase in Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS statewide and in Grayson County. There were over 250 cases of Hep C in our county in just one year. While Hep C can be transmitted by sexual contact, by far the majority of Hep C cases are spread by sharing needles. Innocent babies and sexual contacts are secondary victims of this epidemic. We are currently following eight-to-10 babies in our clinic who were exposed before birth by a mother with Hepatitis C.

The Harm Reduction/Needle Exchange Program will not solve this crisis. But what we are doing now has not helped at all. Opponents to this program were concerned that giving out clean needles could enable these addicts and would lead to more crime. The program we are recommending has many components - not just needle exchange. Every client who comes in will be counseled, and opportunities for rehabilitation and help with their addiction will be made available. Every client will have the opportunity to be tested for Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS. Every client will have the availability of the Hepatitis A vaccine. Many addicts don’t know they have one of these deadly diseases and may be spreading it to an innocent family member. They will be more likely to stop needle sharing and to consider rehab if they know that they are infected.

The needle exchange will be one clean needle for one dirty needle. Each client can receive needles up to twice a week. The program is confidential, and information cannot be shared with law enforcement, so that the client can develop a level of trust with the nurse and counselor. The initial costs will be covered by a grant from the state. A number of national grants are also available for this type of program. It is unlikely that County money will ever have to be used. This is a public health emergency. Our health department is ready to step up and provide these services to help prevent the further spread of these terrible diseases and to help addicts find treatment for their addiction.

Will some of these people keep using? Yes. But many will quit and most will use clean needles. If we prevent a few cases of Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS or even one death from an overdose, this program is well worth it. Please encourage your magistrate to vote YES and let’s help our county begin recovery from this epidemic. You may be saving the life of a child, a loved one, a neighbor or friend.