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Calls For Syringe Exchange Programs Following HIV Increase

Drug users are leading the HIV infection increase.

Northern Kentucky health officials want to ramp up needle exchange programs after the number of drug users contracting HIV infections tripled from 2016 to 2017.

Right now the number is still small. Eighteen people infected reported injection drug use among their risk factors in 2017 compared to only five reports in 2016.

But District Director of Health, Northern Kentucky Health District Dr. Lynne Saddler suspects there are many more drug users infected with HIV. At a Tuesday news conference she said, "All of us know someone or know someone who knows someone, whether it's in their family, whether it's at their church, whether it's in their neighborhood."

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
A panel of health experts at a Tuesday news conference talk about the increase in HIV infection in Northern Kentucky.

She says epidemiologists and disease intervention specialists with the Northern Kentucky Health Department and the Kentucky Department for Public Health are collaborating to better understand the new cases. However, health officials say the HIV infections do not rise to the level of an outbreak as seen in Scott County, Indiana in 2016, as reported by our news partner WCPO in this story.

Northern Kentucky data show the new HIV infections among drug users are concentrated in Campbell and Kenton Counties, counties where there aren't any needle exchange programs.

President and CEO of St. Elizabeth Healthcare Garren Colvin said there need to be. "I think we need our elected officials to put the health of their communities at the forefront of their decisions and if we do that then we'll have a syringe access exchange program implemented throughout Northern Kentucky."

There are syringe exchange programs in Hamilton County where the number of HIV infected drug users increased from nine percent in 2016 to nearly 20 percent in 2017.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.