WILLIAMSTOWN, Ky. -- Several years ago, health officials were startled when they discovered Hepatitis C cases in Northern Kentucky were 19 times the national rate.
Now the Grant County Health Department is launching Northern Kentucky's first needle exchange program in an effort to stop the spread of diseases associated with heroin addicts sharing needles.
"We knew the younger population that we were encountering that was Hepatitis C positive was because of heroin," said Jennifer Hunter, Director of Clinical Services of the Northern Kentucky Health Department. "They had actually told us, 'I am sharing needles with other people in Northern Kentucky.'"
If Hunter can't help people get clean, she says can at least help them be safer. So Hunter is helping launch the needle exchange program.
The program begins Wednesday afternoon in Willamstown. To participate you don't have to be from Grant County or even from Kentucky. You also don't have to give your name to get fresh needles. Nurses will be on hand to offer treatment. The challenge, Hunter says, will be getting addicts to try something new.
"What everybody tells us is it takes some time for [addicts] to build trust," Hunter said. "Maybe the first or second week nobody will show up … We're ready for that. It might not happen. We might not get anyone tomorrow, but we'll just keep offering it week after week."
The program will be available every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.. Participants are encouraged to come back every week with their dirty needles in red or black containers.
"This is really needed," Hunter said. "It's not going to solve the heroin problem in Northern Kentucky, and we don't tout it to be [a solution]. What the main goal is to prevent disease and those that are positive for disease, get them into treatment."
Grant County is the first location but hopefully not the last, Hunter said. The goal is to eventually open exchanges in Kenton, Campbell and Boone counties.