The primary goal of syringe access exchange programs – also known as needle exchanges – is to prevent the spread of hepatitis C and the potential for an HIV epidemic in our region. Hepatitis C causes cirrhosis and liver cancer, among other diseases.

Without question, the opioid issue has become a crisis all over the country, perhaps nowhere more prominently than in Northern Kentucky and Southwest Ohio. People are dying every day. The financial burdens to our communities, law enforcement agencies and health care systems are substantial.

The burden of infectious disease could be considerable. The cost of the medication alone to treat hepatitis C is more than $55,000, and a lifetime of care for HIV is more than $350,000. In June of 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified 220 counties at risk for an outbreak of HIV. Four in our region—Campbell and Grant in Kentucky, Brown in Ohio, and Dearborn in Indiana—are on that list.

In Southwest Ohio, syringe access exchange programs are operating at three sites in the city of Cincinnati and one in Middletown. In Northern Kentucky, programs are in place in Grant County and Pendleton County.  But the current programs don’t come close to meeting the need for these services. We’re hopeful that will change. Community support for needle exchange is crucial to expansion.  In Kentucky, boards of health and city and county governments must approve syringe access exchange programs before they can be implemented.

“This is one of the most important actions we can take to combat the opioid issue in our region,” St. Elizabeth Healthcare President and CEO Garren Colvin said. “We must stop…