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Kentucky Health Advocates Urge More Needle Exchanges

Barren River District Health Department

Kentucky ranks first in the U.S. for its rates of Hepatitis-C, a liver disease that can be deadly.  Despite that, only about two dozen Kentucky communities have needle exchange programs that allow intravenous drug users to anonymously swap dirty needles for clean ones at local health departments. 

A 2015 CDC analysis of 220 counties in the nation found 54 Kentucky counties were vulnerable for an outbreak of Hepatitis-C and HIV. 

"That right there tells you that the state as a whole is in terrible shape," said Ben Chandler, President and CEO of The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.  "Almost a quarter of the counties in the country as a whole are right here in Kentucky."Chandler says education is key to getting more communities to launch needle exchanges.  A recent poll by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky found that those who were familiar with the programs were more likely to support them.  Law enforcement has raised concerns about needle exchanges encouraging more drug use.

The 2015 legislature approved exchanges to help combat the public health crisis associated with opioid and heroin addiction.

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