LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- More people are using Louisville's needle exchange program than expected.

Kentucky's first needle exchange program has been up and running since June 10. The goal is to prevent the spread of diseases among a growing population of IV drug users.

The Department of Public Health and Wellness shared its data through the first eight weeks. 

It shows more than 18,130 needles were handed out and 6,147 dirty ones were turned in.

While the city budgeted for 500 people to use the program through the year, officials say 382 people already visited the mobile RV unit parked on Gray Street.

To give you some perspective, that's enough people to fill the seats on almost 10 TARC buses.

Health officials say the feedback has been positive and more addicts are feeling comfortable coming to them to exchange needles -- they've seen 127 return clients. 

"Trust is very important," said Dr. Sarah Moyer, Louisville Metro Public Health and Wellness Medical Director. "I mean, it's the only way you're going to build that confidence so they feel comfortable coming back to exchange the needles. It's the only way we're gonna get dirty needles off the streets."

Moyer says the most challenging part of the program has been "getting through the politics, and being able to practice the best science and get it up and running."

Some GOP lawmakers have questioned whether Louisville's needle exchange is legal since it doesn't require users to turn in a dirty needle in order to get a clean one.

But public health leaders say as time goes on and trust builds, more people are bringing in their used syringes.

"For the last week, it's about 2 to 1," Moyer said, "So we're getting about 50 percent of the needles we're giving out back."

As the department waits on an opinion from the Attorney General, work continues out of the mobile unit on Gray Street.

In addition to exchanging needles, we're told dozens of people have gotten tested and more than 26 people have been referred to substance abuse treatment. 

Metro health leaders believe the current model is the most effective.

"We're hoping that science and evidence will win," Moyer said.

Health officials say they plan to extend the hours of the needle exchange program in September.


Copyright 2015 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.