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Syringe Exchange Programs: less moral, more logical

By Waylon Whitson
Staff Writer

With the recent announcement that the Paintsville City Council has allowed a Syringe Exchange Program (SEP) to be set up at the Johnson County Health Department (JCHD), a lot of outcry over the decision is based on moral outrage labeling the SEPs as enabling, immoral or founded in a knee-jerk emotional response based on erroneous information.
The reality is that SEPs are needed, not because it is an endorsement by the JCHD or Paintsville’s leadership that intravenous drug use is OK, but because these diseases don’t affect only the drug user, they affect the entire community.
It only takes a few shared dirty needles to start an outbreak, and the risk of your child playing at a public park, being stuck by an improperly disposed needle and infected with Hepatitis C becomes much more prominent.
The introduction of SEPs is not new, as it has been in effect since the early ‘90s on the west coast, and is not an endorsement of an intravenous drug abuser’s lifestyle. SEPs throughout the nation are used as a form of harm reduction by reducing infection, and as a means to get these addicts out of their homes and reintegrated into society.
For example, statistics have shown for almost 30 years in Seattle, that drug users involved in an SEP were five times more likely to enter rehabilitation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ranked Wolfe County residents as the highest risk county in the nation for Hepatitis C outbreak, and Johnson County ranked 53rd.
While a rank of 53 may not seem all that striking, it’s important to remember that there are 3,144 counties or county equivalents in the United States. That means that Johnson County is in the top 1.6 percent of at-risk counties. Combine this with the fact that Hepatitis C, AIDS and other blood-borne infections don’t respect county lines anyway, and you have a recipe for disaster.
When such an outbreak of HIV occurred in Scott County, Indiana, there were 90 new cases of HIV within just a few months. After an SEP was introduced, the spread of new infections was curtailed almost entirely.
People were morally opposed there, too, but in the face of a massive outbreak of HIV/AIDs, the moral objections quickly step out of the way of logic and reality.
Before immediately forming an opposed opinion to the SEP, I urge you to do some research. In Perry County, there is ongoing study of IV drug users that has found that out of 392 tested, 54 percent were already infected with Hepatitis C, and several were completely unaware. How many people are walking around your community now infected, unaware, and using dirty needles, discarding them improperly, and putting you, your child, law enforcement, emergency responders, and even sanitation workers at risk?
Is it worth risking such an outbreak here to hold on to a moral objection that, while understandable, isn’t grounded in fact? There have been no cases where any increase in amount of IV drug users has been noted after the introduction of an SEP, and no increase in crime has been seen either.
It is important to remember these facts when forming an opinion on something as controversial as this in order to prevent further stigmatization of these drug users. Creating even more stigma around the issue, and making these people ashamed to be seen at the JCHD will only make the issue worse, and ultimately, if allowed to happen for long enough, it will come to affect us all.

Darts and Laurels

Laurel: Kudos to the Johnson County Animal Shelter for their swift response helping 32 dogs recovered from a Flat Gap home on July 12 with life-saving treatment. Roger L. Mollett was charged with animal cruelty after Johnson County Sheriff’s Deputies found the animals in varying stages of starvation and neglect. Anyone interested in adopting a dog can contact the shelter at (606) 297-7387.

Dart: Eric Conn has been watching too much “Breaking Bad!” According to the FBI, Conn used a truck owned by an accomplice to escape sentencing in his federal fraud case, and has shown up on camera with a shaved head a few days later at a Walmart and a convenience store in New Mexico. Even as he is on the run, Conn was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison on Friday.

Laurel: Thanks to the actions of Paintsville Fire and Rescue, EMTs, and police, a small fire in an apartment on Lincoln Ave. was contained and extinguished before many realized it was there. Way to go!

Dart: Thanks Mother Nature for trying to cook us! Extreme temperatures moving through the region make it dangerous to work outside for long periods of time. If you can’t reschedule activities in the early morning or evening hours, make sure to take frequent breaks in the shade and stay hydrated.

Laurel: The Paintsville City Council gets a thumbs up for approving the first draft of an ordinance amendment to give more power to the Code Enforcement board – allowing the board the right to enforce property maintenance ordinances and continue with the trend of city cleanup.

Guest Editorial

We’re creating a culture of collaboration, transformation in Eastern Kentucky

By Jared Arnett
SOAR Executive Director

It’s hard to believe that we are on the heels of our fourth annual SOAR Summit in Pikeville. Four years ago, SOAR was an idea. It was a seed of hope planted in a region destined for transformation.
Our dream is becoming reality.
SOAR has served as a catalyst for doers. It has brought people from all walks of life, from Ashland to Paintsville, Lynch, Hazard, London, Morehead and all places in between, together to share their passion of a bigger and better Appalachia. The passions shared cover a wide spectrum from local foods and agriculture, to technology, education, workforce training and cultural and historic preservation.
What unites us in this passion? The commonality of purpose to build a better Eastern Kentucky for all of us and generations to come.
SOAR is much more than an idea. It is a movement. It is a collaboration of all that is good in Eastern Kentucky. It validates that none of us can do this alone, but if we work together, we can accomplish anything.
Every day I see the good happening across the SOAR region. Our work has opened doors for local entrepreneurs to create jobs. Our work has allowed for new and innovative training through our partners in higher education, workforce development and the private sectors.
Our work, collectively, has connected the dots to do what many thought was impossible.
But our work is not done. Actually, this is just the beginning.
I challenge you to be involved. I challenge you to be purposeful in your passion. I challenge you to do something, be it small or large, to make a difference in your community.
A unique way you can contribute is by being a part of the SOAR Network (, a community of doers that share their passion for areas such as: Regional Food Systems, Regional Tourism Development, Industrial Development, Healthy Communities, Small Business in the Digital Economy, Broadband Infrastructure and a 21st Century Workforce.
These areas are aligned with our “Regional Blueprint for a 21st Century Appalachia” ( which is the region’s collective plan to build a brighter future in Appalachia Kentucky. We need every citizen, community, and organization working together to help us move the needle on these goals and objectives.
I often get asked “What is SOAR?”
That’s a good question and it doesn’t have a short answer. However, through everything it boils down to this: You. SOAR is you, it’s me, and it’s us not sitting back and watching, but instead, it is us owning our future. It’s an attitude. Let’s create a culture of collaboration and transformation.
So, I urge you to be part of the solution and join the movement. Join us for the fourth-annual SOAR Summit in Pikeville on Friday, Aug. 4.
Visit our website ( to learn about ways you can contribute.
Jared Arnett is executive director of Shaping Our Appalachian Region, Inc. (SOAR).

Darts & Laurels

Laurel: Kudos to William Blazer of Oil Springs for stepping up to clean up the mess left after the Paintsville City Fourth of July Fireworks at the Mayo Plaza parking lot. It’s people like him who help make the city a place worth living in.

Dart: On the other hand, everyone leaving a mess at Mayo Plaza in the first place should be ashamed of themselves. Enjoying the show and having a good time does not mean being a slob. Didn’t your mothers teach you any better?

Laurel: To the Johnson County Extension Office for expanding Johnson County’s Tourism industry by packaging two-day tours exhibiting the works of local artist, experts and local products. It’s good to see someone making use of our local talent.

Dart: Yet more construction on U.S. 23, continuing road work on Ky. Rt. 321, and blocked off access to Ky. Rt. 1428 is making it very difficult to get into Paintsville from the south. Maybe it could be possible to stagger road projects from now on?

Laurel: To the Paintsville City Council for supporting city improvements. The council gave more teeth to the city’s code enforcement board to enforce property maintenance ordinances and helped take steps to establish a needle exchange program.

Darts & Laurels

Laurel: An engineering assessment on the Big Sandy Regional Detention Center revealed that structural damage was caused by erosion of the soil under the foundation due to a leaky roof that was repaired in 2015. This means insurance will cover the cost of repairs rather than the counties that manage the jail.

Dart: Another inmate escaped from Big Sandy Regional Detention Center while in the custody of Magoffin County jailers. Thomas Wade Price, 30 slipped away while returning from court and there still is no word on where he is.

Laurel: Congratulations to Paul B. Hall Regional Medical Center for winning the American Heart Association/ College of Cardiology Foundation “Get With the Guidelines” Heart Failure Gold Quality Achievement Award for helping hospital teams provide the most up-to-date, research-based guidelines with the goal of speeding recovery and reducing hospital readmissions for heart failure patients.

Dart: While the Fourth of July was fun, it would have been nice for Tourism and the City to plan some live music or other events and entertainment to lead up to the Paintsville fireworks display. Maybe that’s something to look forward to next year.

Laurel: We’re glad to hear that the Johnson County Board of Education is keeping the name of the Paul G. Fyffe Baseball Field as a nod to the rich history of minor league baseball in Johnson County; and naming the baseball complex after Joe Taylor, lifelong fan and former coach who passed away in May.

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