Health department director says she has work to do, to educate Attorney General Coleman about syringe exchanges

The director of a district health department with a syringe exchange has voiced disappointment to her local newspaper over Attorney General Russell Coleman’s opposition to the exchanges.

Dr. Crystal Miller, director of the Wedco Health District, which serves Scott, Harrison and Nicholas counties, told the Georgetown News-Graphic that syringe-exchange programs are misunderstood.

“It is unfortunate that our attorney general doesn’t support syringe service programs,” Miller told the newspaper. “We have work to do to educate him on grasping a full understanding of what this program entails.”

Noting Coleman’s statements to Kentucky Health News, Miller said, “This program is designed around the very things he’s supportive of, prevention and treatment. We work closely with community partners to create a system that no matter where someone enters, we know how to link them to an agency that can assist. Substance abuse is a problem in our society that we will never enforce our way out of, and successful mitigation requires all hands-on deck. Syringe service programs are a framework for that in our community.”

The News-Graphic notes, “Approval for such a program, here, was difficult and strongly opposed by the Scott County Fiscal Court several times until a magistrate who once opposed such a program became aware of a situation involving someone he knew and reversed his opposition.”

Miller said, “At surface level, syringe service programs can be misconceived. This program provides an entry point to many resources for people who use drugs and allows us to promote recovery. Through this program alone, we have referred people to treatment for drug use, linked them to care and resources within the community to help them make better, healthier choices.

“We have success stories of people recovering in every SSP program across Kentucky. However, one of the biggest successes within this program is the amount of hepatitis C and HIV that we have been able to detect and treat within our communities. Without this program, we would not have identified communicable diseases that are killing people and costing taxpayers large amount of money. Just within the Wedco District, through our SSP program, we have saved taxpayers $1.3 million in early identification/treatment of Hepatitis C. We are effective at prevention and treatment and the data proves it.”

As for Coleman’s concern that syringe exchanges promote drug use, Miller said, “I can assure you that not one participant has ever reached our doors and decided to start using drugs because we are providing clean syringes. We prevent the spread of disease, focus on reducing as many barriers as possible and being a resource to helping people make better decisions and recover, all while saving taxpayers money. I hope that we can work more closely with our AG to help him understand and support the impact that this program has in communities.”

More than half of Kentucky’s counties have syringe exchanges.

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

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