News: WDRB, June 4, 2015

City partnering with Volunteers of America to launch needle exchange program

Posted: Jun 04, 2015 3:46 PM EST

Updated: Jun 04, 2015 4:05 PM EST       

By Lawrence Smith

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Louisville's needle exchange program -- designed to help prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C -- launches next Wednesday, and it's more than just needles.

The needle exchange program will operate out of an RV, which will remain parked in front of the Metro Health and Wellness Dept. on Gray Street.

But many of the workers involved in the program will be hitting the streets.

A cleaning crew is busy preparing the RV for program launch next week. It will be open six days a week to offer clean needles, counseling and referrals to heroin addicts.

But the program also includes funding for the Volunteers of America to hire someone to serve as "boots on the ground," a specialist who will literally go door-to-door in areas where the heroin problem is the worst.

“The person paid for by Louisville Metro will have clean syringes they will start their day carrying, and will distribute throughout the day. They'll also be collecting dirty syringes,” said Jennifer Hancock, president and CEO of Volunteers of America of Kentucky.

Those syringes will be properly disposed of, and records kept, to track the success of the program.

The VOA has been operating an HIV prevention and street outreach program for about 20 years. Its leader says partnering with the city on needle exchange is the next logical step.

“If, as a community, we all agree that we don't want the spread of HIV, we do not want the spread of Hepatitis C, and we want to reduce the prevalence of drug addiction, then this is the appropriate solution for our community right now,” said Hancock.

Shanette Owens has been part of VOA's street team for seven years, and will work alongside the needle exchange specialist.

She believes the biggest challenge, at first, will be getting addicts to buy in.

“Are they going to buy in that it's going to be OK, they're going to come to the needle exchange, and they're not going to face any criminal charges?” she said.

But Owens believes, over time, the program, though controversial, will have a huge impact.

“Most cities across the nation that have this particular program experience a high rate of success,” said Owens.

The VOA says it will hire the needle exchange specialist as soon as possible, but likely not before the program launches next week.

More: Louisville officials to begin needle exchange program

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