LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Louisville Metro Health officials say they are saving lives, saving billions of dollars and preventing an epidemic in the city because of the needle exchange program.

Interim Health Public Health and Wellness Director Dr. Sarah Moyer explains if Louisville had an HIV outbreak like the one in Austin, Indiana it would cost the city $40 billion.

“We predicted there would be 30,000 cases of HIV and 25,000 Hepatitis C which would cost about $40 billion to treat if you think about the cost of HIV and social services that go along with it,” Dr. Moyer said.

Shocked by the number, Dr. Moyer had to repeat herself to council members. Six months after the needle exchange program was unveiled in Metro Louisville, Dr. Moyer and other health officials defended its effectiveness.

“Heroin is an ugly disease. Addiction is ugly, but this is one step toward treatment,” Dr. Moyer said.

But this step towards treatment hasn't been welcomed with open arms from everyone in the community.

“When this program first unveiled, we knew it probably wouldn't be politically popular,” Councilman David Yates said.

Especially since some people are there for the needles and nothing more. WDRB News asked if some of the people that come in don’t want the pamphlets filled with information to stay healthy and get treatment.

“Yea, depends on the day, depends on where they're at, so yes,” Dr. Moyer said.

Despite the attitude of not wanting help, Dr. Moyer said since June 1,329 people have used the needle exchange program. Of those who use it regularly, she says there is a 70 percent weekly return rate.

While the goal is first and foremost to prevent diseases like HIV or Hepatitis C through needle sharing, Dr. Moyer says when people do want help it's an added bonus.

Matthew Larocco, a needle exchange counselor says there is no agenda except for what the person coming in wants.

“So they don't have to want help to come in,” Larocco said.

At the start of the program when nine needles were handed out only one was returned. The ratio has since improved and is now two to one.

“A lot of the walls that people put up, a lot of the games that people play...it just goes away,” Larocco said.

Since June, zero people have tested positive for HIV, while 52 have tested positive for Hepatitis C.

The health department is also opening a third needle exchange site this month at Redeemer Lutheran Church in West Louisville.

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