LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A program that puts clean needles in the hands of drug users is working, according to health officials.

On Thursday, officials from the Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness updated council members on the city's needles exchange program. The interim director gave a progress report about how the effort has been working so far and what's next for the program.

The goal is to prevent the spread of Hepatitis C and HIV cases.

The Kentucky General Assembly approved the needle exchange program earlier this year.

Louisville is the first city in the state to implement a program like this.

Why would anyone give a needle to a drug addict?

Diane Hague is director of the Jefferson Alcohol and Drug Abuse Center (JADAC). She says putting clean needles in the hands of drug users does not encourage drug use, but instead helps prevent the spread of deadly viruses.

"Every person they get in there is a success," Hague said. "If we were giving out drugs, that would be encouraging drug use. We are giving needles that are clean so people will not spread Hepatitis C, or HIV or Aids."

In June, the Metro Health Department started a needle exchange program inside an RV parked outside the department's Gray Street office. Thursday afternoon, interim health director Dr. Sarah Moyer gave Metro Council's intergovernmental affairs committee a progress report on the needle exchange program.

"And so far it is working," Dr. Moyer said. "We've had 822 participants, and 325 people that have come back more than once."

Health officials are trying to prevent an HIV outbreak like the one we've seen in Austin, Indiana, saving both lives and money.

"The cost of treatment for Hepatitis C is about $80,000 to $90,000, but if you actually look at if someone who doesn't get treated, over a lifetime it costs closer to $300,000 to $400,000," Dr. Moyer said.

"Helping someone with addiction is really difficult and this is the first step to get them into rehab," Dr. Moyer added. "About 20 percent of our participants are uninsured, and so we are helping them to get insured as well too, and then just getting hooked back up with the healthcare system."

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