Safe syringe sites in Kentucky continue to attract more visitors

FALMOUTH, Ky. – New data shows that the total number of visits to safe spraying sites in Kentucky more than tripled between 2018 and 2022.

Total visits to Kentucky Syringe Service Program sites increased 384% from 2018 to 2022 at sites that voluntarily report data to the state, which 56 of 80 sites do.

The statewide program launched in 2015 and has expanded to counties across Kentucky.

The sites provide sterile syringes and other tools to limit damage. Many offer overdose reversal medications, fentanyl test strips and tools to reduce the damage caused by drug addiction.

“People will use syringes that are not sterile and those syringes that are not sterile can then transmit infections like HIV and Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B,” said Dr. Steven Stack, Kentucky’s Health Commissioner. “Any needle is better than no needle if you are addicted.”

Northern Kentucky has a handful of locations, including locations in Falmouth, Newport, Covington and Williamstown.

“We have fewer overdoses in our county because of the NARCAN we give out,” said Linde Eaton, Pendleton County community health nurse.

Eaton said the site also serves as a one-stop shop for resources and health care. Health professionals can register visitors for STD testing and pregnancy exams, and connect them to recovery resources.

“Research shows that new users of syringe service programs are five times more likely to enter a drug treatment program,” Stack said. “That’s a pretty attractive return on investment.”

Eaton said she has personally seen how the program changes people’s lives.

“We had a gentleman contact us,” she said. “He had lost his children. He had lost his wife. He had lost everything.”

That man was eventually able to get back on his feet.

“He’s back in their lives now, taking them to school and doing the school programs with them,” she said. “It was amazing.”

The sites are attracting more visitors statewide. Among sites that report data to the state, the sites have seen a 125% increase in unique visitors between 2018 and 2022, according to the state health department.

“We all work with people and interact with people in our daily lives who suffer from substance use disorders,” Stack said.

Stacking the program is just one piece of the puzzle. He urged residents to take advantage of other state resources, including the Kentucky Opioid Assistance & Resource Hotline (KYOAR Hotline). Trained healthcare professionals can answer calls to connect residents with resources. The number is 1-800-854-6813. It is available 24/7.

Stack also encouraged people in crisis to call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Just call 988.