UPDATE – Feb. 4, 2019
The Syringe Access Exchange Program (SEP) will be up and running Wednesday, according to Clay Horton, public health director at Green River District Health Department. Implementation of the program makes Daviess County the newest city in Kentucky to establish a SEP, giving people who inject drugs a safe, judgement-free place to obtain clean needles. According to the county and city commissions who approved the program in December, the SEP will reduce the spread of diseases.
The syringe exchange program will be open every Wednesday and Friday from 1 to 4 p.m. at 1600 Breckenridge Street for the foreseeable future, Horton said.
The Owensboro city commissioners voted in approval of a Syringe Access Exchange Program (SEP) to take place in the city through the Green River District Health Department. The SEP will provide services to seven area counties, including Daviess County.
Clayton Horton, public health director at Green River District Health Department, spoke at the county commission meeting two weeks prior about the benefits of the program, and spoke at the city commission meeting on Tuesday as well.
Horton answered some questions from the mayor and city commission regarding various aspects of the SEP, including a tracking system, funding and potential risks of implementing a SEP in the area.
Mayor Tom Watson also explained that city commissioners weren’t voting on funding for the program, but for its consent to exist.
“We put together our plan and program guidelines. We will track the number of people who utilize the program, the number of people who’ve been referred to a treatment program and the number of people who’ve been tested for HIV and hepatitis,” Horton said before the vote.
Horton added that tracking would be conducted via a unique, anonymous identifier on a person’s initial visit to the SEP.
“We’ll be able to track pretty closely, and identify where they’re coming from,” Horton said.
As for costs, Horton said the SEP will be funded through the currently existing local, public health tax dollars that are used to fund other public health programs. Seven counties pay equally into the operation of the health department, Horton said.
“We’re not adding to the number of that. We’re not going to need new revenue for this program. It’s [the money] already there,” Horton said.
In addition to an unchanging amount of tax dollars being used for the SEP, Horton expects a small amount of funding will come from the state health department, in order to help the local SEP get started.
Owensboro Police Department Chief of Police Art Ealum spoke publicly, expressing concern based on information he’d received from the police chief in Bloomington, Ind. According to his source, the local SEP in Bloomington caused a surplus of used needles to be found in public places, such as parks.
Bloomington’s chief of police told Ealum that, initially, city police officers had been called to conduct clean-up at the various places where syringes had been found. Ealum wanted to make sure that OPD wouldn’t be responsible, or be put at risk, for cleaning up used needles across the city.
“We can’t take on any additional responsibilities,” Ealum said of OPD. “When we don’t have a current syringe problem now, we don’t want to create one.”
Horton said part of the SEP was to teach and encourage drug users how to safely dispose of needles in sharps containers, rather than leaving them in public places. Horton also said OPD wouldn’t be held responsible for cleaning up the syringes, if any were to be found.
While the SEP will initially allow users to take more than one syringe at the program’s inception, Horton said that’s only because many intravenous drug users may not have needles to exchange at the onset. However, there will be a one-for-one exchange rule implemented after each person’s first visit.
As for diabetics needing syringes for their disease, Horton said the health department provides other programs that can assist diabetics in getting such supplies. However, they won’t be allowed to obtain needles through the SEP.
“A Community Access Project started in Owensboro in 2005, and it focuses on access to care issues, like diabetics,” Horton said. “We frequently give out diabetic supplies — blood glucose monitors, testing strips, needles sometimes.”