The National Institutes of Health recently awarded the UK Center for Health Services Research (CHSR) funding to study the adoption of syringe exchange programs in rural communities in the Appalachian region of Kentucky.
Rates of opioid use disorder and injection drug use have risen significantly in Kentucky, especially in rural communities. The serious health consequences of injection drug use include the spread of both hepatitis C and HIV. Kentucky is home to eight of the 10 counties in the nation that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified as most vulnerable to an outbreak of HIV.
CHSR’s focus on community efforts to end health disparities in underserved areas aligned closely with the NIH funding opportunity to examine drug use interventions.
The two-year National Institute on Drug Abuse-funded study is designed to reach vulnerable injection-drug users in Clark, Knox and Pike counties. The goal is to understand the many barriers that drug users face in accessing syringe exchange programs and to identify priority intervention targets.
The project’s principal investigator, Hilary Surratt, associate professor in the UK College of Medicine, is working closely with the Clark, Knox and Pike county health departments to gather data from drug users, health department staff, treatment providers and law enforcement.
This data will inform changes to policies and practices of syringe exchange programs and develop prevention strategies to enhance access and utilization of these programs in rural areas.