Saturday, February 10, 2018

Two churches in Richmond become sites for syringe exchanges

Kentucky Health News; video from WBON-TV, Richmond

Two churches in Richmond have become sites for the Madison County Health Department's syringe exchange, a program designed to prevent an outbreak of HIV or hepatitis C among intravenous drug users.

Elizabeth Missionary Baptist Church and Revival Tabernacle joined the program in late January. The health department also provides clean needles at its offices in Berea and Richmond.

“Both churches reported a very active drug scene in the area they are located and they thought it would be a good idea, and we did too, to be where the potential participants are,” Jim Thacker, public information officer for the health department, told Jonathan Greene of The Richmond Register.

"With the expansion to the two churches, the program hopes to become more diverse," Greene writes. "The overwhelming majority of participants have been white."

Thacker told Greene, “We want to serve everyone. We always wanted to get in the neighborhoods where we knew there was an issue. All it takes is someone willing to host us. We wanted to get in the community and we were pleased that the faith community reached out to us.”

Elizabeth Deacon Andre Patterson told Greene, “We decided as a congregation that whatever we can do, we will do to help. A lot of the church members have friends or family who have been involved in drugs. It is hard to get them off drugs until they are ready. We’re just trying to help somebody out and give them a second chance.”

"Revival Tabernacle Pastor David Lamb said that, while he has mixed emotions about the exchange, the church is willing to try to help," Greene reports, quoting him: “Although I have reservations, statistics state that those involved in the exchange program are five times more likely to join a recovery program.”

The Register used the news as a way to update readers on the syringe exchange.

Greene reports, "Thacker said participation has been about expected as many in the substance-use community still have a perception the exchange program is a set-up."

Thacker told him, “Potential participants believe they’re going to come in and there will be law enforcement. And that’s not the case at all.” He said the exchange has helped several participants get into recovery programs.

"According to information provided by the health department, participants in the program have been about split between male and female, with heroin being the drug of choice for most," Greene reports. "The age range of participants is 22 to 59. . . . Thacker said nearly three out of five participants are actively employed and most learn about the program from family and friends."

Exchange participants can get tested for hepatitis and HIV without charge. "The testing is just a finger prick and results are typically back in 15 minutes," Greene reports.

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