Half Of Kentucky Counties At Risk Of HIV Outbreak

Mar 20, 2019

Kentucky health officials announced a handful of pilot programs Wednesday to address and eliminate an increasing number of HIV cases among drug users in the state.

The program is called KIRP, or Kentucky Income Reinvestment Program. "A key component of the program is the Harm Reduction Initiative, which embeds Risk Reduction Specialists in the Harm Reduction/Syringe Exchange programs," the Northern Kentucky Health Department says in a news release

The partnership with the University of Kentucky and the state's Department of Health will also train health care providers to address substance abuse disorders and mental health issues that hinder effective HIV and hepatitis C medical care.

Dr. Lynn Saddler, district director of health at the Northern Kentucky Health Department, announces the KIRP program.
Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU

The district director of health, Dr. Lynne Saddler, says needle exchange programs will continue to be supported in Covington, Newport and Williamstown. In addition, "We will be able to promote HIV testing at a variety of community locations, and through home-based testing," she says. "And furthermore, we will be developing an innovative marketing campaign."

It's been more than a year since Saddler called for more syringe exchange programs. At the time of this WVXU story in January 2018, HIV infections had skyrocketed between 2016 and 2017. At that time, new HIV infections among drug users were concentrated in Campbell and Kenton Counties.

It is still a big problem. According to Kentucky Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Jeffrey Howard, "We have 54 counties in our 120 counties that could have an HIV or hepatitis C outbreak any day."

Across the Ohio River, Hamilton County has also seen an increase in cases among injectable drug users. Commissioner Tim Ingram has asked hospitals to do more testing for HIV and to assist in prevention education.

Last fall, Ingram and Saddler wanted to get ahead before the number of new cases got out of hand. That's why they called in the CDC in November 2018. Eight investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tried to determine similarities in HIV cases among intravenous drug users. It is hoped their findings, along with this program, can help prevent new cases.