Woman stuck by needle faces up to one year of testing for HIV and hepatitis; dirty needles becoming common in public places

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

A Monroe County woman was stuck by an insulin needle found in a pair of sweatpants she purchased at the Walmart in Tompkinsville and now faces up to a year of testing to make sure she hasn’t been infected with HIV or hepatitis, Jacqueline Nie reports for WBKO-TV in Bowling Green.

Insulin syringes are commonly used by IV drug abusers

“I had to be tested for HIV and hepatitis and a drug screening,” said Mary Crawford, who was stuck by the needle. “I have to go back from that in 30 days and be tested again, and again in 6 months from that 30 days.”

“Crawford says through at least these next 7 months, she cannot share anything with her husband or children,” Nie repports. Crawford warned others to be careful: “It could happen to anybody, anywhere.”

The latest Kentucky Health Issues Poll found that 13 percent of Kentuckians said they knew someone with heroin problems. And insulin syringes and needles are commonly used to inject it.

Clark County Public Health Director Scott Lockard said that while this was the first time he had heard of a needle being placed in an article of clothing in a department store, he said it is not unusual for dirty needles to be found in public.

“Unfortunately it is becoming more common for used needles to be found by the public,” Lockard said in an e-mail. “I have had reports of needles being found locally on streets, in parks, public parking lots, unoccupied buildings, and in restrooms in public venues.”

The problem is so bad in Northern Kentucky, where 35 percent in the poll said they knew someone with a heroin problem, that they released public service announcements before Easter to remind children to look for needles before eggs. The Northern Kentucky Heroin Impact Response Taskforce organized police and egg-hunt organizers to search parks for needles prior to the hunts, and said it will continue to search public places for needles throughout the summer, Ben Katko reported for WXIX-TV (Fox 19).

One way to keep dirty needles off the street is through needle exchanges, which allow intravenous drug users to exchange dirty needles for clean ones. These programs were authorized in Kentucky by the 2015 anti-heroin bill, but require both local support and funding.

So far, only 14 counties in Kentucky have either approved or are operating needle exchanges: Jefferson, Fayette, Jessamine, Franklin, Clark, Kenton, Grant, Harrison, Pendleton, Carter, Boyd, Elliott, Pike and Knox. Some jurisdictions have rejected exchanges, saying they encourage drug use, despite pleas from experts who say that’s not true and the programs lead users to treatment.

“Needle exchanges work,” former state health commissioner William Hacker said. “It decreases the spread of infectious diseases. It takes dirty needles off the street. It is safer for the law enforcement and EMS. It also provides an opportunity to interact with people and divert them to effective treatment.”

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